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Sydney Sports & Orthopaedic Physiotherapy
Home « Common Injuries « Body Parts « SHOULDER « Rotator Cuff Tear

Rotator Cuff Tear


The problem

  • A tear in the stabilising muscle(s) around the shoulder joint
  • May be traumatic (usually younger people) or degenerative (usually older)
  • Classified as full or partial thickness tears.  This is only diagnosed by ultrasound or MRI investigations

Interesting facts

  • In a 2005 cadaveric study of 306 bodies 51% had a cuff tear.
  • Many rotator cuff tears cause no pain nor produce any symptoms. 
  • Partial and full thickness tears have been found in post mortem and MRI studies on people who do not have a history of shoulder pain or symptoms.
  • Shoulder pain is variable and does not always correspond to the size of the tear.
  • The vast majority of tears occur in the supraspinatus muscle
  • Cuff tears become more prevalent with age, some say they are a ‘normal’ process of ageing.

What you can expect/look out for

  • Pain – may be sudden onset or, more commonly, gradually developing over time
  • Pain over the outside/front of the shoulder and can also pass down into the upper arm
  • If pain has been present for some time, discomfort and/or tightness can also be felt in the neck
  • Weakness in arm strength
  • Loss of movement

Hints for self-management

  • Avoid moving into painful positions, relative rest.
  • Avoid loading the shoulder (lifting/carrying)
  • Ice and sling during the early (acute) stages may be required
  • Develop good shoulder and shoulder blade posture
  • Use of NSAIDS as directed by your GP.

Management options

  • Physiotherapy that includes both postural and specific muscle retraining/ strengthening exercises
  • Surgery may be indicated if the tear is large, there is an acute/traumatic onset or for any competitive overhead/throwing athlete.
  • Physiotherapy is the preferred management for degenerative or chronic tears of the cuff.
  • Cortisone injections may be considered alongside anti-inflammatory medication to settle the inflammatory reaction. Your GP will guide you with this.

More information

 

 

At Sydney Sports and Orthopaedic Physiotherapy our highly qualified physiotherapists specialise in the assessment, treatment and prevention of neuromusculoskeletal injuries.


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This handout was prepared by Sydney Sports and Orthopaedic Physiotherapy and is intended as a general information service. Please note that the information provided is not intended as a substitute for advice from a registered physician or healthcare professional. If symptoms persist, please consult your doctor.

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Email: reception@ssop.com.au
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