The rotator cuff is a set of 4 muscles at each shoulder. These muscles work together to keep the “ball in socket” as you move your arm out or overhead. If the tendon of one of these muscles is injured, it will be painful for you lift anything, reach overhead, or reach behind your back. The rotator cuff tendons can be injured traumatically in a fall or other accident or be worn down over time by repetitive activity or use of poor posture. Although the injured tendon is in the shoulder, pain from the rotator cuff is most commonly felt in a band around the upper half of the upper arm. A rotator cuff injury can often be diagnosed based on clinical presentation, but if conservative treatments do not resolve the issue, an MRI may be ordered to determine which of the tendons are involved and whether they are torn or just inflamed.
Rotator cuff symptoms are addressed by conservative treatments initially. These can include use of anti-inflammatory medication, physical or occupational therapy intervention, avoidance of aggravating activities, and possibly use of a steroid injection. If the injured tendon is only inflamed or has a small tear and if you are able to avoid irritating activities temporarily, symptoms can improve without surgery. If a significant tear is involved, surgical repair may be required. Rotator cuff repair is typically performed arthroscopically on an outpatient basis.