Rotator Cuff Partial Tear
The very first thing to remember when we talk about a partial tear is that it is almost always the tendons that are torn. Any torn rotator cuff injury is most likely to occur in the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles.
It is very unusual for the actual muscles of the rotator cuff to become torn, unless the injury has been caused by a major trauma. Rotator cuff partial tear injuries are most commonly associated with the supraspinatus tendon although it is possible for any of the four muscles to suffer a rotator cuff tear.
The supraspinatus tendon is thought to be particularly susceptible because it has poor blood flow.
No matter which muscle tendon is affected however a partial tear almost always occurs in the area at which the tendon attaches to the humeral head of the upper arm bone.
The best way to describe a partial tear would be as a fraying of the tendon as this is how it often appears.
As the name suggests a rotator cuff partial tear is classified as any tear that does not extend completely through the torn rotator cuff tendon.
In all cases a partial tear does not result in the tendon becoming detached from the humeral head.
This is really important as it is this factor that means the torn rotator cuff still retains the ability to perform its major function i.e. moving the arm.
There may be an associated reduction in strength due to a rotator cuff tear but the shoulder still operates. Also because the tear is not complete, torn rotator cuff exercises can be used to regain a significant degree of rotator cuff strength.
Who gets a rotator cuff partial tear?A rotator cuff tear is most common in anyone over 40 years of age. This is often because of rotator cuff impingement which is discussed in much more detail elsewhere.
Generally however it is caused by weak rotator cuff muscles allowing the humeral head of the arm to ride up and squash the tendons. The tendons are then much more likely to become torn or fray when the arm is raised.
In younger people a torn rotator cuff is often the result of a trauma such as a fall or some kind of accident.
The other major cause in people under 40 is as a result of overuse.
Anything that requires regular use of the arm over the head such as tennis, baseball, painting ceilings etc. can lead to a partial tear.
Symptoms of a rotator cuff partial tearThere are two main symptoms of a rotator cuff partial tear; pain and shoulder weakness.
Although tears can occur as a result of a traumatic injury, many tears occur gradually and no specific injury can be recalled. The pain is usually located at the front and side of the shoulder or upper arm, and is frequently described as having an aching, burning or toothachy quality.
The usually occurs with overhead motions, but can progress to the point that it is present with normal activities, or wake the patient during sleep.
Pain from a torn rotator cuff can either build gradually or have a sudden onset. The main areas of pain are normally located over the front and side of the shoulder and the upper arm.
Pain when carrying out various activities is normal as is night pain if sleeping on the affected shoulder. I know that in my own case an inability to get a good night's sleep was a major reason for me taking decisive action to finally deal with my rotator cuff partial tear and end my pain.
It is important to note however that a lot of people report little or no pain associated with their rotator cuff tear. There are many recorded cases of people having an asymptomatic rotator cuff tear.
In other words they have no idea they have a tear! Not only that but often the pain experienced from a partial tear gradually diminishes over only a few weeks or months.
The weakness caused by a partial tear, like pain, varies from one person to the next. It is a weakness of the shoulder to carry out, what are often, simple daily tasks.
Raising the arm over the head can be difficult and in some people virtually impossible. Reaching out either forwards or to the side, getting dressed and lifting even small objects can be difficult.
Diagnosis and treatment
There is other in depth information available to you on this site detailing the diagnosis and treatment of a rotator cuff partial tear. This section is just a brief outline of what is available.
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