The answer here is…..maybe. Rotator cuff tears can USUALLY be managed conservatively or in the worst cases repaired surgically. But what happens if NONE of these treatments happens? A rotator cuff tear COULD turn into something called rotator cuff arthropathy- arthritis.

If you believe you have had a rotator cuff injury that you have left undiagnosed or untreated, PLEASE READ ON!

Around 2 million Americans go to the Doctor each year due to shoulder pain that is due to a rotator cuff injury. If this is not treated properly at that time, it COULD turn into the above disease: rotator cuff arthropathy, which basically means severe arthritis around that joint.

What does the rotator cuff do?

The rotator cuff consists of 4 muscles that play a crucial role in stabilizing your shoulder joint. This joint consists of the ball and socket joint from your arm, the clavicle connection, and the shoulder blade.

Image of the shoulder joint with the rotator cuff muscles showing their alignment along the humerus, clavicle, and scapula.
The 4 rotator cuff muscles and their alignment around the shoulder joint.

When you suffer an injury, the support keeping the ball and socket joint together is weakened. This can happen one of a thousand ways, but will result in pain, weakness, and trouble moving the shoulder around. Many of the patients I see say that feel pain when lifting overhead or lifting heavier loads.

So what is this scary next step? The rotator cuff arthropathy? Arthritis?

Again, without proper treatment, the shoulder complex is now weakened. Your arm bone (the ball of the ball and socket joint) moves upward, creating less space in your shoulder joint. This feels like that “bone on bone” pain. This smaller space gets inflamed, crystals form, and further destruction occurs.

Now, this seems scary and extreme. But it DOES HAPPEN! When I have patients with this condition, I pull the arm down and away from the small space and the patient usually says “that feels better. And I can move my arm without pain!”

While I can treat this condition and decrease shoulder pain here, I would MUCH rather rehab rotator cuff tears FROM THE BEGINNING. Many patients are afraid of “arthritis.” While it is nothing to be afraid of, if it can be avoided, let’s do that.

Dr. Casey having a patient perform rehab on her shoulder. This patient is laying face down and pulling dumbbells back in a rowing motion.
Dr. Casey working on a patient’s shoulder who had a rotator cuff injury several years before. This patient is now suffering from early arthritis stages.

Rotator cuff arthropathy can take YEARS to develop as the tear slowly alters how the ball and socket works. An increased shifting of the ball away from the socket will cause irritation to the cartilage protecting your shoulder joint. This will cause the cartilage to wear down, and this will lead to arthritis over time.

With rotator cuff arthropathy, there’s often more weakness in the shoulder than with regular arthritis due to the tear. Furthermore, if you have rotator cuff arthropathy, you will likely experience pain, loss of mobility, and swelling around your shoulder.

Now for the kicker: what is the treatment for rotator cuff arthropathy? Unfortunately, it is usually SURGERY. The surgery is a reverse shoulder replacement. THEREFORE- let me help you catch it early and treat it now.

*Check out more blogs about your shoulder joint

  • Considering shoulder surgery: what you should know.
  • Can you diagnose your shoulder pain?

Please set up a call if you would like more information.

Please do not wait any longer to get your rotator cuff injuries rehabbed properly. Prevent future problems and feel confident with the shoulder you have now!

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Talk to you all soon!

Dr. Casey