The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint: the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into a socket in the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff keeps the shoulder in the socket. The rotator cuff consists of four muscles that come together as tendons to cover the head of the humerus. The tendons attach the humerus to the shoulder blade and aids in lifting and rotating the arm.
When one or more of the tendons in the rotator cuff is torn, it no longer fully attaches to the head of the humerus. A partial tear can occur where the tear damages the soft tissue but does not completely sever it or a full-thickness tear can occur where the soft tissue is split into two pieces and the tendons may tear off where they attach to the head of the humerus.
Nonsurgical treatment may relieve pain and improve function in the shoulder; however, shoulder strength does not typically improve without surgery. These treatments may include: rest, activity modification, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. If pain does not improve with nonsurgical methods, surgery may be recommended.
Surgery for rotator cuff repair involves the reattachment of the tendon to the humeral head. In arthroscopic shoulder repair, the surgeon inserts a small camera called an arthroscope into the shoulder joint, which displays pictures onto a screen so that the surgeon may guide surgical instruments. Using sutures and suture anchors, the torn muscle and tendon are sewn back to the bone where it was originally attached.
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