You’ve been experiencing shoulder pain for a while, and you’re starting to wonder if you need to see a doctor. You’re even wondering if you’ve injured your rotator cuff (even if you’re not sure exactly what that is) and if you might need surgery to repair it.
At Steven E. Nolan, M.D., our team specializes in rotator cuff injuries and treatment. Here’s our advice on whether or not your injury will require surgery.
What is a rotator cuff tear?
Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that form a cuff, or cover, over the head of your humerus (upper arm bone) as it inserts into the socket that forms your shoulder joint. The cuff stabilizes your shoulder joint while allowing you to lift and rotate your arm.
A tear in your rotator cuff can happen suddenly from an acute incident, such as a fall, a sports injury, or lifting something heavy, or it can occur due to wear and tear over time. A partial tear means one of the tendons is frayed or damaged, and a complete tear goes all the way through the tendon or pulls the tendon completely off the bone.
When should you see a doctor?
Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:
- Pain in the front of your shoulder that you can feel go down your arm
- Trouble raising your arm
- Weakness in your shoulder
- Pain when you sleep on the affected side
- When you move your shoulder, you hear a clicking or popping sound
You may not always notice a tear when it happens, but when you experience these symptoms, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. A tear can get worse over time, so putting off a visit to the doctor only delays the inevitable and makes your treatment more difficult.
Dr. Nolan examines your shoulder and may recommend an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound to gather further information or confirm their diagnosis.
Do you need surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear?
Most rotator cuff tears do not require surgery. Dr. Nolan usually begins treatment with a combination of anti-inflammatory medications, steroid shots (cortisone), and physical therapy.
In many cases, these treatments will relieve your pain and restore your shoulder’s strength and function. Although they won’t heal the tear, they’ll allow you to function normally.
Surgery will likely be the next option if your pain and weakness don’t improve with these treatments. Most patients who reach this point still have pain at night and difficulty lifting and reaching even after several months of medication and therapy.
Dr. Nolan may also recommend surgery immediately if your injury is acute and you use your arm for overhead work or sports (such as pitching, tennis, or swimming).
The type of surgery will depend on your injury. A partial tear may only need a trimming and smoothing procedure called debridement, while a full tear requires reattachment of the tendon to the bone.
If you’re experiencing shoulder pain and need a specialist to examine it, the expert team at Steven E. Nolan, MD, is here for you. Just call our office in Sugar Land, or request an appointment with our convenient online scheduler. We can assess your condition and get you back to normal as soon as possible.