Supraspinatus tendon tear

A supraspinatus tear is a tear or rupture of the tendon of the supraspinatus muscle, which is located at the back of the shoulder.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a supraspinatus tear include:

  • pain when lifting and lowering your arm
  • pain when you lie on the injured shoulder
  • stiffness in the shoulder
  • limited range of movement

Usually a tear due to an injury will produce immediate intense pain and weakness in the arm. In cases of a degenerated tear, pain is mild at first and increases gradually over time.

It’s important to seek medical advice if you are experiencing the symptoms above. Injuries in the rotator cuff can lead to loss of motion or weakness without treatment.

How is it diagnosed?

A clinical diagnosis of your shoulder will include questions about how long you have had the pain for, whether there are certain movements that make the pain worse, and whether you have had similar problems in the past.

It can be difficult to diagnose a supraspinatus tear because there are many other conditions with similar symptoms, including other types of shoulder tear in the rotator cuff, SLAP tear, or inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.

In addition to an examination, the GP may recommend:

  • X-rays – to exclude conditions such as sclerosis
  • Ultrasound – to quickly view the tendons in your shoulder and compare them to your other shoulder
  • MRI – to show the tendon and detect any tears or inflammation.

Causes

Supraspinatus tear can be caused by lifting something too heavy, falling on your arm, or dislocating your shoulder. However host cases are the result of the tendon wearing down over time, which is known as a degenerative tear.

You’re more likely to be at risk of a supraspinatus tear if:

  • you’re over the age of 40
  • you lift heavy objects or weights on a regular basis
  • you do work which involves lifting your arms, such as painting, plumbing and carpentry.
  • you play sports such as tennis or cricket.

Can a supraspinatus tear be prevented?

Daily shoulder exercises can strengthen the muscles in your shoulder and help prevent future injury. A physiotherapist can advise you on what exercises will strengthen the back of the shoulder in addition to other parts of the shoulder.

Treatment for supraspinatus tear

A supraspinatus tear can be treated with medication, physical therapy, steroid injections, or surgery:

  • medication may include pain-relief and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the shoulder
  • physical therapy involves advice on exercises to carry out which restore flexibility and strength to your shoulder. This is a common form of treatment, both for minor shoulder injuries and for patients recovering from shoulder surgery.
  • steroid injections are sometimes recommended to provide short-term pain relief if medication hasn’t worked
  • surgery may be considered if the tendon has been badly torn and unlikely to heal on its own. Surgery might involve reattaching the tendon to the born, or transferring a nearby tendon to replace the damaged one. In extreme cases, surgery might involve replacing the shoulder joint.
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