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Rotator Cuff Tear in New Jersey

Excessive use and straining of the shoulder joint may cause a rotator cuff tear that limits the use of your shoulder. At Performance Rehabilitation, we offer treatment for rotator cuff tears at our offices in Totowa and Lafayette Township in New Jersey.

What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

The rotator cuff consists of muscles connected by four tendons that come together at the joint of the shoulder above the humerus, or upper arm bone. The anatomical structures form a “cuff” that enables a broad range of motion for the arm while still holding it in place. Although the shoulder joints are among the most mobile in the body, they’re also surprisingly weak and vulnerable to injury.

Excessive strain, like from throwing too much, can produce swelling and tears in the rotator cuff tendons. Sudden strain can even result in a tendon separating from the bone or tearing in the middle.

When a tendon in the rotator cuff tears, it is no longer completely affixed to the top of the upper arm bone. The majority of tears happen in the supraspinatus tendon and muscle, but this can also occur in other areas of the rotator cuff.

Types of Rotator Cuff Tears

A rotator cuff tear is categorized by:

  • Partial: In this type of tear, the soft tissues are damaged, but they do not fully detach.
  • Full-thickness: This type is also known as a complete tear, wherein the soft tissues are divided into two pieces. In many instances, the tendons separate from the top of the humerus. With this kind of tear, the tendon essentially has a hole in it.

What Causes a Rotator Cuff Tear?

A variety of factors can contribute to chronic, or degenerative, tears of the rotator cuff.

  • Repetitive Strain

Using the same shoulder motions repeatedly puts a significant strain on the tendons and muscles of the rotator cuff. Activities such as tennis, lifting weights, baseball and rowing can increase the risk of tears due to overuse. Many professions and everyday tasks can also cause this.

  • Poor Circulation

As people age, the supply of blood to the tendons in the rotator cuff diminishes. Without ample blood delivery, the body is less capable of repairing any damage, which can eventually lead to tears.

  • Bone Spurs

Bone spurs, or an overgrowth of bone, become more common with age, and can form on the acromion bone’s underside. When the arm is lifted, these spurs rub the tendons of the rotator cuff. This is known as shoulder impingement, and over time, it causes weakening of the tendons and makes tearing more likely.

What are the Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear?

People with a torn rotator cuff may experience:

  • Pain at night and while resting, especially when lying on the injured shoulder
  • Pain while lowering or lifting the arm, or with certain motions
  • Weakness when moving the arm
  • Crepitus, a grinding or cracking feeling during shoulder movement

Tears that occur suddenly, such as from falling, typically result in severe pain. You may also feel a snapping sensation and notice weakness in the upper arm right away. Rotator cuff injuries can cause pain when lifting the arm to the side.

When tears occur gradually from overuse, they can also cause weakness and pain. You may experience shoulder pain when lifting your arm to one side, or in a path that travels down the arm. Initially, pain may be minor and only be felt when elevating your arm above your head. Non-prescription pain relievers, including ibuprofen or aspirin, can help at first.

How is a Rotator Cuff Tear Diagnosed?

After taking your medical history and evaluating your symptoms, we will examine the affected shoulder. Our physical therapists will determine if there is tenderness in any part of your shoulder, or if a deformity is present. To determine your active range of motion, they have you move your arm in a variety of directions. The therapist will then move your shoulder passively to look for restrictions. Strength deficits are also identified. Special testing will be clustered to either rule in or rule out tears, impingement, cervical radiculopathy, or the need to refer on for imaging and orthopedic surgical consult.

Imaging Tests

Other tests that could help us determine a diagnosis include:

X-rays: We usually perform x-rays first. Because they typically fail to display the rotator cuff and other soft tissues, a regular x-ray may come back normal or show that you have a bone spur.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): These imaging tests are better able to show the soft tissues. They can show the rotator cuff tear itself, the location of the tear in the tendon and how large it is. An MRI can also provide your physician with a better picture of how new or old the tear is because it gives an idea of the condition of the muscles and tendons.

The pain associated with a rotator cuff tear can keep you from enjoying your favorite activities. If you have symptoms of a rotator cuff tear, contact us for a personal consultation with one of our physical therapists at Performance Rehabilitation, located in Totowa and Lafayette Township in New Jersey.