Rotator Cuff Tears

The rotator cuff is a very important structure in our shoulder that keeps the “ball” centered in the “socket” and gives us much of our normal healthy strength and range of motion, especially when reaching the arm away from the body. Rotator cuff problems range from mild inflammation and swelling of the rotator cuff (tendinitis) to complete tearing of the rotator cuff. These problems can cause significant pain, weakness, and disability.

The rotator cuff can be compared to a rope made out of many fibers. A normal rope has no fraying or tearing of those fibers, the rope is new, normal, and does everything it is designed to do. Sometimes the rope becomes worn, frayed, with some fibers popping here and there. That is like "wear and tear" of the rotator cuff with age. The wear can advance to where one of the three "cords" of the rope snaps but the other two are intact, this is called a "partial tear" of the rotator cuff. Finally, the entire rope may snap and fail, and the rope is no longer usable. This is a complete tear of the rotator cuff.

RC pic
A Shoulder Scope Picture Showing a Rotator Cuff Tear

Treatment for rotator cuff tears depends on many factors, including the size of the tear, how long the tear has been present, other problems that happen in the shoulder (for example, arthritis), and most importantly, YOUR needs and goals as the patient!

Dr. Nelson trained with the world’s foremost experts in rotator cuff problems at the world-renowned Shoulder Unit at the Centre Orthopedique Santy in Lyon, France. Dr. Nelson is an expert in the physical examination and evaluation of rotator cuff injuries, and performs approximately 150 shoulder surgeries every year, including rotator cuff repair. He is one of the few orthopaedic providers in the Raleigh area to use in-office ultrasound to evaluate for rotator cuff tears, which can help avoid unnecessary and costly imaging studies such as MRIs.


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