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Two signs that may mean you have a rotator cuff tear

A rotator cuff presents with shoulder pain and weaknessAs a shoulder surgeon, I notice most people have never heard the term “rotator cuff”. This refers to the tendons of a group of four muscles in the shoulder which attach to the top of the humerus. They give you the ability to lift and rotate the arm. A rotator cuff tear can be caused by trauma, such as a fall, or as a result of a degenerative process over time. Early diagnosis is essential for correct treatment…

Two signs that may indicate that your rotator cuff is torn are:

  1. Pain – pain when trying to lift or rotate the arm could indicate a rotator cuff tear. Patients often also complain of pain at night when lying on the shoulder
  2. Weakness – loss of power in the arm, especially when trying to lift the arm out to the side, may also be a sign of a rotator cuff tear. True weakness can be difficult to determine. This is because pain also contributes to limited movement. Some patients find they cannot lift their arm, but if they use the other arm to help they can do so.

What should I do if I think I have a tear?

I would advise that you see a shoulder surgeon as soon as possible. It is important to rule out other causes of shoulder pain (read: I have shoulder pain – could this be shoulder bursitis?).

If a rotator cuff tear is left untreated, you may develop significant functional impairment. In the long term you may develop a painful arthritis. A repairable tear may become irreparable if it is not treated soon. This is because the muscle begins to degenerate with time. The tendon also retracts and becomes shorter.

An X-ray and ultrasound scan are baseline investigations required to help diagnose rotator cuff tears.

I have spent many years training in the highly specialised field of arthroscopic shoulder surgery. It is advisable to be treated by a surgeon who has had the correct training and experience in this field. I treat patients at Waterfall Hospital in Waterfall/Midrand and Morningside Mediclinic in Sandton. I also treat patients from many other areas as well, including Rosebank, Sunninghill and Fourways.

Yours in good health,

Dr Warren Matthee

MB BCh (Wits), MRCS (England), MMed (Ortho Surg), FC Orth (SA)

Orthopaedic Surgeon