The shoulder rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles and their tendons that control the function of the shoulder that connects the upper arm bone (humerus) with the shoulder blade (scapula). The rotator cuff is responsible for holding the ball of the humerus firmly into the shoulder socket and, along with the deltoid muscle, helps to raise the arm.
A tear in the rotator cuff is the separation of the tendons in the joint from the bone. It is not an uncommon injury and occurs in people of all ages. However, it usually occurs in individuals over 40 who engage in repeated overhead movements from sports, work or daily life activities. As people get older, the muscle and tendon tissue becomse less elastic, making them more susceptible to injury. A traumatic injury to the shoulder may also cause a tear.
Generalized pain in the shoulder is the most common symptom of a rotator cuff tear. This is often more severe at night. Depending on the severity of the damage, a loss of motion and strength in the shoulder can also result.
If the tear is minor, treatment may include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and a cortisone injection. If the tear is significant, surgery is often indicated.
Due to the most recent surgical advances, repairing a torn rotator cuff is most often done arthroscopically through several tiny incisions. The surgeon works with small instruments including a miniaturized camera, while looking at the inside of the shoulder on a television monitor.