Do You Have Shoulder Pain Whenever You Lift Your Arm? Here's What You Need To Know About Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tears
If you experience shoulder pain whenever you lift your arm or whenever you sleep on your side at night, it may be a sign of a degenerative rotator cuff tear. The tendons of your rotator cuff attach to your upper arm bone, and they're responsible for keeping your shoulder joint stable. A torn tendon will cause pain whenever you lift your arm and shift your rotator cuff.
As people age, degenerative rotator cuff tears from overuse become more likely. Thankfully, there are treatment options available that can significantly reduce your shoulder pain and restore your range of motion. If you think you may have a degenerative rotator cuff tear, read on for more information about this condition and how it can be treated.
What Is a Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tear?
A degenerative rotator cuff tear occurs when the tendons that make up your rotator cuff are damaged faster than they can heal. It's a type of overuse injury.
Lifting heavy objects overhead (such as when you're stocking store shelves) or making forceful overhead movements (such as when you're serving in tennis) will cause micro-tears in your rotator cuff tendons.
Normally, the body heals these micro-tears on its own. As people age, however, the blood supply to the rotator cuff tendons will decrease. This slows the healing process. Repeated damage to the rotator cuff tendons combined with the slow rate of healing eventually leads to the development of larger tears in the tendon. This is when a degenerative rotator cuff tear occurs.
What Are the Symptoms of a Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tear?
Few people experience symptoms from a degenerative rotator cuff tear when it first occurs. As the tear worsens, however, it will begin to cause pain in the affected shoulder whenever you lift your arm. You may also experience pain in that shoulder when you lie on it at night.
Once the pain begins, people often compensate by using the affected shoulder less often. This eventually leads to muscle weakness—you may notice that arm becoming more difficult to lift than the other one, regardless of pain.
How Is a Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tear Treated?
When an orthopedic surgeon diagnoses you with a degenerative rotator cuff tear, conservative approaches to treatment will usually be tried first. You'll be asked to rest the shoulder with the degenerative rotator cuff tear and perform gentle exercises to help strengthen the muscles in the rotator cuff. In some cases, your orthopedic surgeon may give you corticosteroid injections.
Conservative treatment gives your shoulder a chance to heal on its own. If the pain doesn't subside within a few months or if your degenerative rotator cuff tear is significantly affecting your quality of life, however, then you may be a candidate for rotator cuff surgery.
How Can Rotator Cuff Surgery Help Repair a Degenerative Tear?
During rotator cuff surgery, an orthopedic surgeon removes damaged areas of your rotator cuff tendons and then sutures healthy areas to your arm bone. Your surgeon may also remove any bone spurs that have formed on your shoulder blade, which can aggravate the rotator cuff tendons and impair healing. In most cases, rotator cuff surgery can be performed as an outpatient procedure with no hospital stay required.
Rotator cuff surgery is very effective at reducing pain and restoring function in your shoulder. One downside, however, is that the recovery period is quite lengthy—it usually takes a few months before you can comfortably use your shoulder again. When your pain is severe and not improving with conservative treatment, however, then rotator cuff surgery is often the best option.
If you've been experiencing shoulder pain when you try to sleep at night and whenever you try to lift your arm, schedule an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. You may have a degenerative rotator cuff tear, and it's best to treat these injuries early when they are still small.