Man throwing ball to child

At University of Maryland Orthopaedics, our shoulder surgeons are experts in rotator cuff surgery to fix tears.

What Is the Rotator Cuff?

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of the shoulder joint, allowing the shoulder to move while keeping it stable. Injuries and inflammation in the rotator cuff cause pain and limit movement.

Types of Rotator Cuff Tears

There are two types of rotator cuff tears:

  • A partial tear (a tear does not completely sever the attachments to the bone)
  • A complete or full thickness tear (a through-and-through tear, one that is as small as a pinpoint or may involve the entire tendon of one or more of the muscles)

With a full-thickness complete tear, the tendon is completely detached from the bone. (Complete tears typically do not heal without surgery.)

Causes of Tears

Rotator cuff tears may occur in two ways:

  • A sudden or acute tear may happen when you fall on your arm while it is stretched out or after a sudden jerking motion when you try to lift something heavy.
  • A chronic tear of the rotator cuff tendon occurs slowly over time, often in those with chronic tendonitis or impingement syndrome. At some point, the tendon wears down and tears.

Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms

The pain resulting from a sudden tear after a fall or injury is usually intense. Weakness of the shoulder and arm is often present, along with a snapping sensation associated with certain movements.

Symptoms of a chronic rotator cuff tear include a gradual worsening of pain, weakness, and stiffness or loss of motion. The exact point when a rotator cuff tear begins in someone with chronic shoulder tendonitis may or may not be noticed.

Most people with a rotator cuff tendon tear initially experience pain at night. Pain that is worse at night may wake you up. During the day, the pain is more tolerable and hurts primarily with certain movements. Over time, the symptoms become much worse and are not relieved by medications, rest or exercise.

Rotator Cuff Surgery

Rest and exercise may help someone with a partial rotator cuff tear who does not normally place a lot of demand on the shoulder.

You may need surgery to repair the tendon if the rotator cuff has developed a complete tear or if symptoms persist despite conservative therapy. A full thickness tear will not heal on its own. Most of the time, arthroscopic surgery can be used even for very large tears. Occasionally, open surgery is required. Sometimes you may need a graft patch to support cuff tears or even assist in building new ones.

Surgery is an outpatient procedure, meaning you can go home the same day. After surgery, you will be in a sling for about six weeks, but some basic exercises can start right away. Full recovery can take up to six months.

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment with one of our shoulder surgeons or to learn more about our services and locations, please call 410-448-6400 or request an appointment online.

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