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Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tears: What You Need to Know

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surrounds the shoulder joint and plays a crucial role in arm movement and stability. Over time, wear-and-tear can lead to degenerative changes in this tissue group, resulting in injuries that affect daily life and overall shoulder health.

Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sumit Dewanjee at FXRX in Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona, has significant expertise in diagnosing and treating rotator cuff injuries, including age-related tears that can make life difficult.

Read what Dr. Dewanjee and our team say about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for degenerative rotator cuff tears.

Understanding degenerative rotator cuff tears

Unlike acute rotator cuff tears that are the result of falls and other traumatic injuries, degenerative tears occur more slowly, often as a natural part of aging.

Your shoulders are involved in a multitude of tasks throughout the day. Everything from brushing your teeth to lifting a coffee cup to opening a door requires engagement from the tendons and muscles of the rotator cuff.

Over the years, this everyday use can cause these tissues to break down, increasing the risk of strains and tears, making age a leading cause of degenerative tears. Most rotator cuff tears are related to degenerative changes, usually occurring after you’ve reached 40.

Additionally, jobs, sports, and other activities that require repetitive use of the shoulder joints can contribute to tissue wear-and-tear, leading to early degenerative tears. Vascular changes that decrease blood supply to the rotator cuff also contribute to age-related tears.  

Symptoms of a degenerative rotator cuff tear

Degenerative changes in the rotator cuff cause the tendons to weaken, stretch, and fray over time. Symptoms often begin subtly and worsen as the tissue damage progresses and may include:

Pain and weakness

Persistent shoulder pain and weakness, especially when lifting or reaching, are common symptoms of rotator cuff problems. Even mundane daily activities such as lifting a bag of groceries, putting on a shirt, or combing your hair may be challenging.

You may also develop pain at rest and when lying on the affected side as the condition worsens. Discomfort related to a rotator cuff tear can travel down the upper arm or occur at the back or front of the shoulder.

Limited range of motion

Another common symptom of rotator cuff problems is limited range of motion, making it difficult to raise the affected arm or reach overhead, outward, or backward. This typically worsens over time, leading to a gradual loss of shoulder mobility and function.

Catching and clicking sensation

Some of our patients experience catching or clicking when moving the affected shoulder. Certain shoulder positions may cause a crackling sensation.

Diagnosis and treatment

Treatment at FXRX starts with a thorough evaluation, during which we assess your shoulder range of motion, strength, and stability. We may also recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or other imaging studies to examine the soft tissues and identify tears and their severity.

Conservative treatment includes:

Surgical repair may be necessary for severe tears. Cited as one of Arizona’s top shoulder surgeons, Dr. Dewanjee specializes in minimally invasive, arthroscopic shoulder surgery to repair damaged tendons. This type of surgery helps speed healing and rehab, as it reduces surgical tissue trauma.

Whether your shoulder pain has just developed or you’ve been feeling the symptoms for a while, we can help. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Dewanjee at FXRX today by calling the office or requesting an appointment online.  Our offices are in Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona.

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