Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms and Treatment

How a Rotator Cuff Injury Occurs

Your shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint, and your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that stabilize your shoulder joint and allow you to lift and rotate your arms.  While a rotator cuff tear is usually the result of someone who repeats the same motion with their shoulder (think, a pitcher or house-painter), a tear can also occur as the result of a sudden impact, fall, or a car accident.

Generally, your rotator cuff can tear two ways: 1) a partial tear where the tendon that protects the top of your shoulder is frayed or damaged; or 2) a complete tear which goes all the way through the tendon and pulls off the bone.  

Rotator cuff tear injury after a car accident
Photo by Mayo Clinic



Your pain may range from minor and intermittent to severe and constant.  According to WebMD, you may find you have trouble doing the following things or performing the following maneuvers:

  • Experience weakness in your shoulder
  • Having difficulty raising your arm or reaching behind your back
  • Feel pain when you move your arm in certain ways or lie on it
  • Be unable to lift things like you normally do
  • Hear clicking or popping when you move your arm

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms following a car accident, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.  If a rotator cuff tear goes untreated, you could suffer serious problems over time, leading eventually to a frozen shoulder or arthritis over time that are both much more difficult to treat.


Your doctor will start with a physical examination of your shoulder as well as your medical history to determine whether you have suffered a tear to your rotator cuff.  He or she will want to assess your range of motion, frequency of pain (and when the pain is the most significant), as well as your level of strength in the shoulder.  Your doctor may order an MRI (to make pictures of your shoulder), an x-ray (to look at the bony structures of your shoulder), or even an ultrasound (to view the tendons, muscles, and ligaments in your shoulder).  


The Mayo Clinic offers the following information about treatment of a rotator cuff tear.  Conservative treatments — such as rest, ice and physical therapy — sometimes are all that's needed to recover from a rotator cuff injury. If your injury is severe and involves a complete tear of the muscle or tendon, you might need surgery.


If conservative treatments haven't reduced your pain, your doctor might recommend a steroid injection into your shoulder joint, especially if the pain is interfering with your sleep, daily activities or exercise. While such shots are often temporarily helpful, they should be used judiciously, as they can contribute to weakening of the tendon.


Physical therapy is usually one of the first treatments your doctor may suggest. Exercises tailored to the specific location of your rotator cuff injury can help restore flexibility and strength to your shoulder. Physical therapy is also an important part of the recovery process after rotator cuff surgery.


Rotator Cuff repair after car accident injury
Photo by Mayo Clinic

Many different types of surgeries are available for rotator cuff injuries, including:

  • Arthroscopic tendon repair. In this procedure, surgeons insert a tiny camera (arthroscope) and tools through small incisions to reattach the torn tendon to the bone.
  • Open tendon repair. In some situations, an open tendon repair may be a better option. In these types of surgeries, your surgeon works through a larger incision to reattach the damaged tendon to the bone. Compared to arthroscopic procedures, open tendon repairs typically heal in the same length of time but recovery may be more uncomfortable.
  • Tendon transfer. If the torn tendon is too damaged to be reattached to the arm bone, surgeons may decide to use a nearby tendon as a replacement.
  • Shoulder replacement. Massive rotator cuff injuries may require shoulder replacement surgery. To improve the artificial joint's stability, an innovative procedure (reverse shoulder arthroplasty) installs the ball part of the artificial joint onto the shoulder blade and the socket part onto the arm bone.

If you feel you have suffered an injury to your shoulder from a car accident, you should seek treatment immediately.  Not only will ignoring and not treating an injury allow it to worsen over time, failing to seek treatment may also significantly hinder your ability to recover on an insurance claim from the accident.  Bringing in a car accident attorney to help you with the claim-handling process as soon as you realize you have been injured in a car accident is the safest way to ensure you protect your rights and recover as much as you are entitled to from the responsible insurance company.  We never charge an initial fee or cost to sit down with you, talk about the car accident, and explain your rights to recover. Contact us.

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