Rotator Cuff Tear

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that work to move the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff can be torn from overuse or injury. A torn rotator cuff can cause pain with shoulder movement and make it difficult to use your shoulder for daily activities.

We take an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to successfully diagnose and treat this condition. We look at non-surgical options first, and we are highly skilled in minimally invasive surgical procedures such as arthroscopy. 

If you have a rotator cuff tear, it's important to seek treatment as soon you can because with time, some rotator cuff tears can become too big to fix and may require a more complex surgery.

Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear

Only a physician can make this diagnosis, but some typical symptoms include:

  • Pain at night and at rest, particularly if you're lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain when when you lift and lower your arm or with certain movements
  • Weakness when you lift or rotate your arm

Diagnosis for a Torn Rotator Cuff

When you come to the University of Michigan:

  • We will take your complete medical history, ask you about your pattern of symptoms and conduct a physical exam.
  • We will consult with your referring physician, if there is one.
  • We may conduct tests such as X-rays and may need to order a CT scan or MRI. 

Then we will use all of this information to develop an individualized treatment plan for you. 

Treatment for a Torn Rotator Cuff 

Non-surgical Treatment for a Torn Rotator Cuff

Your physician may recommend non-surgical treatments such as:

  • Changing your activities so the stress isn't on your shoulder
  • Exercises to strengthen your shoulder
  • Physical therapy
  • Rest
  • Steroid injections

Non-surgical treatment may be best if you just want relief from pain and the ability to function again. If you use your shoulder for strenuous work or athletics, you may be a better candidate for surgery. 

Surgical Treatment for a Torn Rotator Cuff

If non-surgical treatment does not work for you, surgery to repair the rotator cuff may be recommended. Patients who had a recent trauma that caused the tear may be candidates for surgery right away because it can improve the chances for healing.

There are a few options to surgically repair a torn rotator cuff, and U-M surgeons are expert in all of them:

  • Arthroscopic repair - Your surgeon will insert a small camera called an arthroscope into your shoulder joint to see the damage and then use small surgical instruments to repair the tendon(s).
  • Open repair - A traditional open surgical incision may be used if the tear is large or complex. 
  • Mini-open repair - Your surgeon first inserts the arthroscope to evaluate the rotator cuff and then makes a slightly larger incision to perform the surgery. 
  • Revision surgery - Patches and muscle transfers may be required for complex cases

The goal of any of these surgeries is to attach the tendon back to the bone where it tore off, to keep it there while it heals and to help you maintain good shoulder health. 

Our surgeon will explain your options and the details of your surgery to you. 

Our Approach to Care

As part of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center, we collaborate with multiple disciplines, including:

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Family Medicine
  • Physical Therapy
  • Rehabilitation
  • Radiology
  • Rheumatology

Our integrated, multidisciplinary approach to patient care enables us to develop an individualized plan for your treatment. 

Our goal is to improve the quality of your life.

Contact Us / Make an Appointment

  • MedSport, 877-877-9333, or 734-930-7400
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR), 734-936-7175

You're about to make an important decision, and we want to help you make a good one. Visit our Contact Us page to see a list of Musculoskeletal Call Centers. Our staff will be glad to talk with you about your options and how we can help.

Our goal is to improve your quality of life. As one of the oldest and most prestigious orthopaedic surgery units in the country, physicians at the University of Michigan Department of Orthopaedic Surgery have treated hundreds of people with torn rotator cuffs and performed hundreds of rotator cuff repairs.