Rotator cuff injuries

Tue, Jun 13, 2017

Rotator cuff problems: Uncommon in your 20s, common in your 30s, very common in your 60s and 70s, Dr. Shawn Hennigan, an orthopedic surgeon with BayCare Clinic, tells NBC 26’s “Wisconsin Tonight.”


What is your rotator cuff?

Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles – the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor – that come together as tendons surrounding the top of your humerus, the long arm bone that goes from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint. The rotator cuff attaches the humerus to the shoulder blade. The four muscles help you to lift and rotate your upper arm.


What is a rotator cuff injury?

A rotator cuff injury occurs when there’s a tear in one or more of the rotator cuff tendons. When a tear occurs, the tendon is no longer fully attached to your humerus. The supraspinatus muscle is most commonly torn of the four muscles. Tears are typically caused by a sports-related injury, repeated lifting or reaching, or weakened tendons.


Who’s at risk for a rotator cuff tear?

  • People over the age of 40. As you age, your tissue weakens, making you more prone to injuries.
  • Athletes who use repetitive arm motions, especially baseball pitchers, archers and tennis players.
  • Carpenters or other construction workers using repetitive arm motions, such as painting or heavy lifting.
  • People who have torn their rotator cuff before. Once you tear it, scar tissue builds up in the torn area. The more scar tissue you have, the greater loss of motion in your shoulder.

What are some of the symptoms that you tore it?

Symptoms could include:

  • A dull ache in the shoulder
  • Pain while sleeping at night if you are lying on the affected shoulder
  • Weakness when lifting or rotating your arm
  • Difficulty combing your hair or reaching behind your back
  • A feeling of something snapping or immediate weakness in your upper arm

What treatment options are available?

Depending on the size of the tear, your doctor may recommend physical therapy, hot or cold packs or anti-inflammatory medications. If the tear is significant or you have been experiencing pain for long periods of time, surgery may be required.


If surgery is needed, we recommend an arthroscopic procedure, which is a minimally invasive surgery to repair shoulder problems. The surgery works best if it is done within a few weeks of the tear occurring. During surgery, small incisions are made to reattach the torn tendon to the bone. Arthroscopic surgeries result in less pain following the procedure, less time spent in the hospital for recovery, and quicker returns to work or sports.


In extreme cases (and larger tears), shoulder replacement may be required.


How long is the recovery from surgery?

Recovery can vary from a few weeks to several months. The type of surgery performed and the size of the tear was will determine how long recovery will be and how soon you can go back to work or continue to play sports.


Patients may be asked to wear a sling for four to six weeks after surgery. Physical therapy is often recommended to help regain motion and strength in your shoulder.


More information

Visit or call Orthopedics & Sports Medicine BayCare Clinic at 877-229-2273.




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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.