When you visit your orthopedic surgeon’s office to inquire about a a shoulder injury, and whether it’s a torn rotator cuff, the medical team always asks about your symptoms. The two main components of a complete rotator cuff tear are pain and weakness.
That probably sounds pretty generic to you, right? But a complete orthopedic assessment will help differentiate a torn rotator cuff from some other shoulder injury like rotator cuff tendinitis.
In general, a few simple tests can help indicate a torn rotator cuff:
- Hold your arm straight out to your side (90 degrees) with your thumb down. Lower your arm slowly. If it drops suddenly, you may have a rotator cuff tear and need to make an appointment with your orthopedic surgeon.
- Hold your arm straight out to the side, level with your shoulder, with your palm facing down (hand in a fist). Have someone gently press your arm down to determine your strength in this position. If you can’t give any type of resistance at all, this could be an indication of a ligament tear. Make an appointment and be prepared to tell your orthopedic surgeon about the pain involved and in what position you experienced the most pain.
- Raise your arm straight in front at about shoulder level (90 degrees) and turn your wrist so that your thumb points toward the floor. Have someone try to push your arm downward as you resist. A weakened or torn rotator cuff may be indicated if you can’t hold your arm steady.
- Raise your arm straight in front about shoulder height (90 degrees) and turn your palm up toward the ceiling. Have someone try to force your hand downward against your resistance. If your rotator cuff is weak or torn, you will not be able to hold your arm steady against pressure. This is an exercise a trained orthopedic surgeon may administer on any patient complaining of shoulder pain.
- Hold your arm at your side, bend your elbow, and turn your wrist so your thumb points toward the ceiling. Have someone try to force your hand in toward your stomach while you push back and try to rotate your arm outward. If your rotator cuff is weak or torn, you may not be able to steady your arm.
- Raise your arms alongside your ears, palms facing inward. Have someone stand behind you and press your arms forward. If you have trouble fighting the resistance, this may be another sign of a rotator cuff tear. Time to schedule a visit with your shoulder specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Advanced Spine and Orthopedics.
Weakness, with or without pain, is always the key identifier of a torn rotator cuff. Even under the most extreme pain — if range of motion and strength are still holding up in the arm and shoulder– it may not be a tendon tear. If a shoulder injury or painful shoulder occurs, please make an appointment with our orthopedic surgeon to get a comprehensive examination and learn about your treatment options.