what causes a rotator cuff tear?

What Causes a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Rotator cuff tears are usually caused by one of two things – degeneration or trauma.

Tears due to wear and tear occur gradually over time, while tears that are the result of an injury are usually immediate. Whichever type of tear you experience, you can expect to feel varying levels of pain and muscle weakness. We look at what causes a rotator cuff tear:

Understanding degenerative rotator cuff tears

Degenerative rotator cuff tears tend to be the most common type experienced by patients. While some level of degeneration occurs naturally as we age, other factors that can contribute include:

  • Repetitive stress
  • Bone spurs
  • Limited blood supply

Repetitive movements of the shoulder can lead to gradual degeneration of the rotator cuff. This means that those who participate in sports and activities such as tennis, weightlifting, rowing, and cricket, are most at risk of developing this type of injury.

Bone spurs are another potential culprit. They can develop naturally underneath the acromion bone as we age. Whenever you lift your arm, the bone spurs will rub against the tendon of the rotator cuff, leading to shoulder impingement. Over time, this will weaken the rotator cuff, increasing the risk of tearing.

Another thing that happens as you age, is the blood supply to the rotator cuff reduces. With a limited blood supply, the body will struggle to naturally repair any tendon damage that may occur. In time, this could cause the rotator cuff to tear.

What is an acute Rotator Cuff Tear?

While degenerative rotator cuff tears are the most common type, acute tears are also possible. These develop due to an injury, and will cause a sudden, sharp pain. Potential causes of an acute rotator cuff tear include:

  • An accident, such as a car accident.
  • Falling onto an outstretched arm
  • Lifting something too heavy with a lurching movement

These are the most common causes of acute tears and unfortunately many acute injuries go undiagnosed. You will feel an immediate weakness and pain in the affected arm and shoulder. You also won’t be able to lift the arm above the head.

How are rotator cuff injuries treated?

Treatment for rotator cuff tears will vary depending upon their severity, alongside individual patient circumstances. In most cases, non-surgical treatment can help to improve function and reduce pain. Options include rest, physical therapy, steroid injections, and medications.

If non-surgical methods don’t work, surgery may be recommended. Typically, surgery is offered to those who have had symptoms for six to 12 months, alongside patients with larger tears. During surgery, the tendon is reattached to the humerus head, and several techniques may be used.

If you are concerned that you may have a rotator cuff tear, book a consultation with one of our friendly specialists today.