To diagnose a rotator cuff disorder, doctors ask about any shoulder
injuries or past shoulder pain. They also do a physical exam to see how well
the shoulder works and to find painful areas or activities. Moving your arm in
certain ways can help a doctor learn about the condition of the rotator cuff.
You may have an
X-ray to check the bones of the shoulder. If the
diagnosis is still unclear, the doctor may order an imaging test, such as an
MRI or an
It is important to treat a rotator cuff problem.
Without treatment, your shoulder may get weaker and you may not be able to lift
up your arm.
For most rotator cuff disorders, doctors recommend
these steps first:
- Rest the shoulder. Use the arm, but do so
carefully. Don't keep the shoulder still with a sling or brace. This can lead
to stiffness or even a frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis).
- Use ice or heat on
the shoulder, whichever feels better.
- Take anti-inflammatory drugsanti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain and
reduce swelling and inflammation. Examples include ibuprofen (such as
Advil) and naproxen (such as Aleve). Or try acetaminophen (such as Tylenol). It can help with pain but will not reduce swelling or inflammation.
- Avoid positions and
activities that are uncomfortable, such as lifting or reaching overhead. Stop
any activity that hurts the shoulder.
The doctor may also suggest
physical therapy. Physical therapy can reduce pain and
help make your shoulder stronger and more flexible. In physical therapy, you
learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your shoulder. After you learn the
exercises, you can do them at home.
It is important to give
treatment time to work. It may take from a couple of weeks to several months to
get good results.
If other treatments don't help, your doctor may
give you shots of steroid medicine in the shoulder. The shots probably don't
cure rotator cuff disorders. But they can help relieve pain and inflammation so
you are able to do exercises to strengthen the shoulder. The shots may also
help your doctor find out if your shoulder pain is from your rotator cuff. If a
steroid shot near the rotator cuff relieves your pain, even if the pain comes
back later, it means the rotator cuff—not some other shoulder problem—is
causing the pain.
Most rotator cuff disorders aren't treated with
surgery. But doctors may do surgery if a rotator cuff tendon is torn or if
several months of other treatments have not helped.
- Surgery may be a good choice if you are young
and your rotator cuff has been in good shape. Surgery may not work as well if
your tendons are weak and frayed.
- Surgery is not a substitute for
physical therapy. Even after surgery, you may need months of physical therapy
to have a full recovery.