By Dr Morgan Kinnear, DC, MS

What is the Rotator Cuff?

The rotator cuff is a series of four muscles that surround the head of the upper arm bone (humerus). They assist in movement initiation of the shoulder and increase the depth of the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff provides increased stability during arm movements, and assists in maintaining optimum joint positioning. The shoulder is a relatively shallow joint when compared to the depth of the hip socket. The shallowness allows for increased movement, but comes at the cost of stability. This is why it is common to hear of people dislocating their shoulders, but less common to hear about hip dislocations. Researchers believe that injuries to the rotator cuff affect nearly 30% of the population over the course of 60 years¹.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

One of the most common injuries to the shoulder are rotator cuff tears (RCTs). RCTs are often the result of a fall on an outstretched hand, sending stress up the arm and into the shallow shoulder joint. This can lead to tears through one or more of the rotator cuff muscles, which often leads to pain with virtually all shoulder movements. Rotator cuff tears are sometimes found by accident and may not be symptomatic at all. Tears caused by non-traumatic events that occur over time are often labeled degenerative rotator cuff tears.

Conservative vs. Surgical Treatment – What to Consider

Currently there are no established guidelines for the conservative vs. surgical treatment of degenerative rotator cuff tears. The research slightly favors surgical interventions, however the difference between the two options is small.

Important factors to consider when deciding between surgery and conservative rotator cuff tear management:

  • Severity of tear
  • Level of disability
  • Pain intensity
  • Activity level
  • Recovery time

If you or a loved one are dealing with a shoulder injury or shoulder pain, you may need to seek medical assistance. It’s important to receive a proper diagnosis, which can include imaging, and to learn about your treatment options. If you’d like to talk to one of our practitioners, please schedule an appointment at Emerge by calling (360) 787-3615.

  1. Garibaldi R, Altomare D, Sconza C, Kon E, Castagna A, Marcacci M, Monina E, Di Matteo B. Conservative management vs. surgical repair in degenerative rotator cuff tears: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2021 Jan;25(2):609-619. doi: 10.26355/eurrev_202101_24619. PMID: 33577014.