Why are Partial Rotator Cuff Tears Such a Common Injury?

There are many different shoulder injuries a patient can suffer with, but by far one of the most common is the partial rotator cuff tear. The earliest recorded incidence of this type of injury dates back all the way to 1788. Since then, the injury has become a lot more common; especially amongst athletes.

Here, we’ll look at why partial rotator cuff tears are such a common injury and how they can possibly be prevented.

What is a partial rotator cuff tear?

The rotator cuff consists of four tendons which attach to both the shoulder blade and the humerus bone. They’re largely responsible for the movement of the arm, and they’re known to weaken over time. Overusing the tendons is what typically results in a tear.

A partial tear is diagnosed when it hasn’t gone all the way through the tendon. If the entire tendon is torn all the way through, it’s referred to as a full-thickness tear. However, the severity of a partial tear can differ between patients. This is because partial tears can be anything from just 1mm deep which is approximately 10 per cent of the tendon, up to 50 per cent of the tendon, and in some cases, more.

Sometimes it can be challenging to distinguish between a partial tear from a full tear, or a partial tear from tendonitis. Therefore, it’s essential that you’re seeking diagnosis from a highly skilled, experienced orthopaedic surgeon that specialises in the shoulder alone.

Why is the partial rotator cuff tear so common?

The main reason partial rotator cuff tears are so common, is because they develop gradually over time when the rotator cuff is used. For athletes who carry out repetitive overhead movements for example, there’s a significant chance a tear will develop over time.

However, it isn’t just athletes who are at risk. In fact, it’s unlikely that any person over the age of 40 will come back with a clear shoulder MRI scan. This is because the tendons naturally weaken with age. Some patients who have been diagnosed with a partial tear don’t recall suffering any form of trauma. It is a common misconception that rotator cuff tears are caused purely through trauma. If you are over 40, any repetitive movements to the rotator cuff can cause a tear to gradually develop.

So, the majority of partial rotator cuff tears are down to degeneration due to either activities or age.

Can the partial rotator cuff tear be prevented?

It isn’t always possible to prevent partial rotator cuff tears, but there are some things you can do to lower the risk. Making sure to warm up properly before carrying out any vigorous exercise is highly recommended. Activities such as weight lifting for example, can place significant pressure on the rotator cuff. Without warming up, it could quickly become torn and inflamed.

Strengthening exercises can also help to build up the tendons, making them more resistant to injury. Stretching is also recommended to those who have suffered a previous tear as it can prevent further injuries down the line.

Overall, partial rotator cuff tears are common, particularly in athletes and men over the age of 65. However, the good news is that effective treatments are available and most partial tears can be treated without surgery. However, it will depend upon how severe the tear is. The key is to seek treatment as soon as you suspect there may be a problem with the shoulder.