A rotator cuff tear is a rupture of the muscle fibres located at the shoulder joint that are responsible for shoulder rotation, abduction and also general shoulder instability. The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint which has the largest variety of range of all joints which leaves it predisposed to all types of injuries.
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that originate on the shoulder blade and attach at the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) which is known as the greater and lesser tubercles. These muscles are:
Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear:
Deep and sharp type of pain that can refer around the whole shoulder joint, towards the neck or down the arm towards the elbow.
Excessive shoulder pain on movement
Clicking noise on movement
FOOSH injury (Falling on out-stretched hands)
Tearing while under load such as shoulder exercises at the joint
After a rotator cuff tear you will experience a specific pain able to be pin-pointed at your shoulder joint and surrounding structures will begin to tighten up and will be extremely tender on palpation. There will be a varying degree of inflammation so it’s important to control this and let the shoulder heal with RICER (rest, ice, compress, elevate, referral to practitioner).
After the injury has settled down, physiotherapy will be required to assess the severity of the strain to determine if medical imaging (MRI) will be needed and to work out a treatment plan. From here you will be referred to a myotherapist for soft tissue release massage, dry needling and joint mobilisations. There is always going to be a degree of muscle tightness as muscle tissue will always tighten up around an affected area so massage is great treatment therapy for loosening these muscles and releasing trigger points. After a few sessions there will be a big reduction of pain, increased range of motion and greater strength and function of the shoulder joint.
After your injury is back to pre-injury there may continue to be general stiffness and aches while also being more predisposed to re-injury in future. It’s important to keep up with treatments on a month to two month time frame to keep freeing up the joint and for general monitoring of the shoulder complex.