Rotator Cuff Tears and Treatment Options

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The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons in the shoulder. The “cuff” feature holds the upper arm bone (or humerus) securely in the shoulder socket, helping us to lift and rotate our arms and flexibly reach overhead.

When the rotator cuff tears, it’s usually due to injury or overuse. Injuries are typically caused by a fall or from attempting to lift an item that’s too heavy. Tears from overuse can occur naturally with age or from repetitive stress on the rotator cuff tendon from overhead activities.

Learn more about rotator cuff tears from Steindler’s own Dr. John C. Langland.

Diagnosing a Tear

To properly diagnose a rotator cuff tear, a physician will usually begin by assessing the range of motion in the shoulder and asking the patient to gauge pain levels and joint weakness. Additional tests to confirm the diagnosis may include X-Rays and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. Each can provide important information about other conditions in the shoulder joint and help guide treatment.


Designed to alleviate pain and restore function, recommended treatment options vary by the type of tear and the age and activity level of the patient.

Rest. Patients are encouraged to minimize stress on the rotator cuff joint by avoiding all overhead activity.

Physical therapy. Physicians and physical therapists often recommend a combination of exercises designed to gradually strengthen the shoulder joint and restore motion.

Anti-inflammatory medication. Drugs such as ibuprofen are recommended to help reduce pain and swelling in the joint.

Steroid injections. A steroid may be injected directly into the shoulder to reduce swelling and inflammation.

Surgical intervention for full thickness tears is recommended for younger patients or when other treatment options fail to reduce symptoms.

No matter what course of treatment is called for, rehabilitation is a crucial component of healing. Though full recovery may take several months, a guided physical therapy program can help patients regain shoulder strength and flexibility and safely return to previous levels of activity.

If you’ve experienced a shoulder injury or suspect a rotator cuff tear, Steindler Orthopedic Clinic can help. Call us at (319) 338-3606 to schedule an appointment.