A rotator cuff is a system of tendons and muscles that surround the shoulder joint, creating a significant influence on your ability to lift your arm. Like every other part of your body, the rotator cuff is prone to the wear and tear of age and thus is at an increasing risk as your reach and pass the age of 40. In fact, a rotator cuff tear is one of the leading causes of pain among adults in the United States.

The most common cause of rotator cuff tears is excessive stress, incurred during repetitive lifting or regular overhead activities. Individuals like baseball pitchers and tennis players are especially vulnerable due to the nature of their work, as are those who work in construction, window washing or house painting.

The tendons and muscles naturally degenerate with the passage of time, which means that they may tear entirely during a strenuous activity past 40 years of age. In younger individuals, the rotator cuff may be affected by a fall or other traumatic injury.

In approximately 50% of cases, non-invasive treatment options will provide pain relief and improve the functionality of your shoulder. Your doctor will recommend any combination of rest, modified or ceased activity level, pain relief medications, and/or physical therapy – depending on the severity and the specifics of your case. If your treatment plan does not yield satisfactory results, you may require an injection of cortisone, a highly effective anti-inflammatory medication.

If all else fails, you will require surgery to repair the rotator cuff and restore full functionality to your shoulder. Upon completion of surgery, you must undergo an extensive recovery period, involving immobilization for 4-6 weeks, followed by passive exercise that gradually develops into an active exercise routine to improve strength. The entire recovery process lasts many months, although it is well worth the effort because full recovery is guaranteed except for very rare cases.