rotator cuff disorders diagnosis

Rotator Cuff Disorders: Tendonitis or Tear?

Shoulder pain is something most of us experience at some point in our lives. However, if the pain doesn’t go away, it could be a sign of a more serious injury.

There are lots of shoulder injuries you can develop, and rotator cuff disorders are particularly common. Here, you’ll learn about the different rotator cuff disorders and how to spot the differences between them.

What is rotator cuff tendonitis?

Rotator cuff tendonitis is inflammation or irritation of the rotator cuff muscles. The condition can range in severity, and in extreme cases cause the rotator cuff to become trapped below the acromion. This causes extreme pain, requiring immediate treatment.

Tendonitis occurs over time and can be caused by several factors. You can develop it due to playing overhead sports, or simply by sleeping in an awkward position on the shoulder.

What is a rotator cuff tear?

A rotator cuff tear develops when the attachment from the tendon at the head of the humerus rips. The supraspinatus is the main tendon affected, though a tear could also develop in the other surrounding tendons.

A lot of the time, they occur over time, starting with the fraying of the tendon’s fibres. If the shoulder is used despite continuing pain, the tendon could go on to tear. You can either experience a partial, or full-thickness tear.

Symptoms to watch out for

While both tendonitis and a rotator cuff tear can cause significant pain, there are some differences in their symptoms.

With tendonitis, you’ll find that symptoms often start out mild and worsen in severity over time. They include:

  • A clicking sound when using the shoulder
  • Pain when lifting or reaching for something
  • Stiffness
  • Pain even when the shoulder is still

When the condition starts to worsen, you may also have difficulty reaching around your back, and experience more pain at night when trying to sleep.

With a rotator cuff tear, symptoms will depend upon the type of tear you experience. However, some general symptoms to look out for include:

  • Pain when trying to sleep
  • A weakness in the shoulder and arm
  • Pain when you aren’t using the shoulder
  • A popping or cracking sound when using the shoulder

If you suffered an acute tear, the pain will usually be more severe, and loss of strength will occur immediately. If it is a degenerative tear, it will cause some pain, but not as intense as an acute tear. Without treatment, a rotator cuff tear will advance until pain medication no longer has any effect.

Whether you are suffering with a rotator cuff tear, or tendonitis, there are some effective treatment options available. Non-surgical options include rest, physiotherapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or steroid injections. Alternatively, surgery may be required for more severe injuries.

If you are experiencing pain or weakness within the shoulder, it could be a rotator cuff disorder. Book a consultation with a shoulder specialist now to diagnose and begin treatment for the injury.