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“Oh No - Rotator Cuff Tear - What Now?”

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Firstly, what is the rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is the group of muscles that provide stability for and create movement at the shoulder joint. There are four muscles as a part of the group; Subscapularis, Teres Minor, Supraspinatus and Infraspinatus.

Three of these muscles attach to the back of the scapula or shoulder blade and one to the front with all connecting to the top of the arm or head of humerus (the ball).

The shoulder joint has a huge range of motion due to it being a shallow joint, therefore the action of these muscles becomes even more important! They make sure that the humeral head (ball) stays centred on the socket, along with helping the arm to lift and to rotate.


What is a rotator cuff tear and what causes one?

A rotator cuff tear is damage to one, or more, of the four muscles of the cuff.

These tears can be caused by an acute injury – like a fall, pull or lift; or they can be caused by chronic wear and tear with years of wear at the shoulder or poor mechanics at the shoulder (this usually occurs in those over the age of 40).

Generally those with a rotator cuff tear will have shoulder and/or upper arm pain; mostly with movement but there can also be a persistent ache. There will be a feeling of weakness with movement but especially with overhead or reaching up behind your back or to the side.


What do you do if you suspect a rotator cuff tear?

Step one: come and see us! Sooner rather than later!

As physiotherapists we have a good set of clinical tests that we can use to test your shoulder, along with questioning of the history of your injury/pain to help identify what might be going on!  From this assessment we can set you with an exercise programme (yes exercises!) to work on your strength and range of motion and let you know any tips and tricks to ease your road to recovery. We always tailor our rehabilitation around what is important to you; working towards getting you back to work, sport, hobbies or just easing the pain with daily activities.

When required, we also have the ability to send you for an ultrasound and x-ray and refer you to the appropriate specialist if your shoulder requires a little more attention.


Is physiotherapy necessary?

Yes – it is important to assess the degree of the injury and to make sure that you know how to best manage your injury. Ensuring that your shoulder regains the needed strength and range is essential to making sure you get back full function and return to the things you need and love to do.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hayley Whiting is a physiotherapist working at Motus Rangiora.  Hayley has a clinical interest in the treatment and management of musculoskeletal injuries and sports rehabilitation. Hayley enjoys netball and will be involved in North Canterbury netball over the winter as the physiotherapist on-site on Saturdays. Hayley enjoys attending the gym and competes nationally in Olympic weightlifting and Crossfit competitions.

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