Rotator cuff tears are often associated with sports injuries, but in most cases, the injury develops from natural wear-and-tear as you go about your daily life. No matter what causes the problem, it’s essential to recognize the signs so you know when to seek medical care.
If you keep using the rotator cuff muscles and tendons despite a tear, the injury only gets worse, leading to a longer recovery, a higher risk of needing surgery, or developing a long-lasting disability.
The experienced team at ROC has helped many people of all ages overcome rotator cuff tears. Most people improve with nonsurgical treatments, but when you need surgical care, you can depend on their extensive experience and skill in minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery.
If you have questions about shoulder pain, don’t hesitate to connect with the ROC team. Meanwhile, these are the top five signs of a rotator cuff tear.
In most cases (but not all), shoulder pain is the first symptom. You can usually feel the pain in the front of your shoulder, but it may also travel into your arm or radiate through the deltoid muscles covering your shoulder.
If you suffer an acute injury, like a fall or a sports injury, the pain appears suddenly and is severe. You’ll have no doubt in your mind about whether or not you should seek medical care.
However, most rotator cuff tears occur slowly as years of wear-and-tear create small tears in the tendons. In this type of overuse injury, the pain is mild and occasional at first.
As you keep using your arm, the tear gradually deteriorates, enlarges, and becomes inflamed. Your pain increases along with the worsening tear. One sign of an advanced tear is pain when lying on the affected side or shoulder pain that disrupts your sleep.
Difficulty using your arm
Your rotator cuff is responsible for lifting and rotating your arm. When the tendons are torn, you’ll notice weakness and pain when using your arm, especially when lifting or raising your arm over your head. As a result, everyday activities like getting dressed and combing your hair can be difficult or impossible to perform.
The severity of your symptoms depends on the extent of the tear. A small tear may support arm movement that gradually becomes more uncomfortable, while a full tear substantially raises the level of pain and arm disability.
Muscle weakness and loss
Untreated rotator cuff tears lead to muscle weakness and atrophy (muscle loss). The extent of the muscle degeneration depends on the severity of the tear and the amount of time between the injury and treatment. Increasing muscle loss makes it more difficult for the muscles to regain their original strength.
Crepitus refers to unusual sounds and sensations — like popping, clicking, crackling, and grating — that occur in the shoulder joint when moving your arm.
You can experience crepitus when air bubbles inside the joint pop, ligaments or tendons snap over the bones, bone rubs against bone, or the joint is out of alignment.
The importance of crepitus is that it indicates joint damage. Not all rotator cuff tears cause pain or arm weakness, so crepitus may be one of the first signs of a problem.
Swelling and tenderness
An acute injury and long-term inflammation in the rotator cuff tendons may cause swelling and tenderness to the touch in the shoulder above the injury.
Don’t wait to seek help for rotator cuff tears
Many people live with the pain until it gets bad enough that they can’t use their arm or can’t tolerate the discomfort. The problem with this approach is that the damage only gets worse as you keep using a torn tendon.
If you experience shoulder pain, limited arm movement, or arm or shoulder weakness, it’s time to schedule an appointment at ROC in Tualatin or Oregon City, Oregon. Call the office near you, or book an appointment online today.