How can you tell if you have a rotator cuff tear at home?

How can you tell if you have a rotator cuff tear at home? 1024 535 Phoenix Spine & Joint

Not all pain in the shoulder is shoulder pain. Most people are really surprised to learn that pain in the shoulder can come from anything from breast cancer to an ectopic pregnancy. The problem is that a rotator cuff tear, when present, may need a surgical repair to get better. And to make matters worse, the longer you wait the harder (and worse) the repair. In this article we will go over how to figure out if your shoulder pain is due to a rotator cuff tear, and whether you need to act.

The truth is we don’t really know why breast tumors, neck pain, lung cancer, heart attack, ectopic pregnancy, and even laparoscopic surgery can cause pain that feels like its in your shoulder. BUT we do know how to tell the difference.

If passive range of motion of your shoulder reproduces the pain, then its coming from your shoulder. What that means is if you relax your arm and have someone take it through a full range of motion and there is no pain, then your pain is coming from something else.

Even after you’ve localized your pain, there’s more potential problems than just the rotator cuff. Biceps tendinitis, acromioclavicular separation/ arthritis, and a labral tear all feel similar. The definitive test is the MRI; however, most doctors recommend you treat at home for 3 weeks before moving on to imaging. So, how can you tell at home when the issue really is the rotator cuff?

Spoiler alert, it doesn’t matter whether or not you had an accident. There is an old wives’ tale that rotator cuff tears happen during severe accidents. And they do. But partial or complete rotator cuff tears can be entirely due to wear and tear, and frequently happen without an actual injury.

One clue that is commonly reliable is that the pain from a rotator cuff tear is often worse at night, and wakes you from sleep. In general, rotator cuff tears feel like an ache in your shoulder and heads to the arm and not neck. The pain is made worse by lifting something off a high shelf, holding a tray, or putting your hands behind your back.

Again, most doctors recommend you first try self-care at home first. But know that if the tear is complete then the longer you wait the harder it is to fix. Give it 3 weeks, then go see your medical or chiropractic doctor. If you want to see an orthopedic surgery specialist, then find one who specializes in sports medicine.