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Supraspinatus Tendon Tear

Supraspinatus tendon tear occurs when the tendon that connects the shoulder blade to the bone on the upper arm becomes inflamed or ruptured. The tear could be a result of overuse, trauma or just part of the normal aging process. A torn supraspinatus tendon causes sharp pain either on the front or outside part of the shoulder, especially when lifting the arms sideways or to the front. The tear also causes painful sensations when lying on the affected shoulder.

Treatment for a torn supraspinatus tendon aims to get the shoulder mobility back to normal. Conventional rehabilitation exercises may be all that is needed to treat the condition and prevent it from aggravating. However, surgical intervention is necessary in case structural and biomechanical issues are involved.

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Causes of supraspinatus tendon tear

Supraspinatus tendon tear occurs when the small muscle connecting the supraspinatus muscle to the upper bone of the arm is torn. It is a thumb-wide muscle running along the shoulder that facilitates sideways and upward arm movements as well as stabilizes the connection between the ball and socket joint in the shoulders.

Tearing of the supraspinatus tendon could be brought about by:

  • Normal degeneration process

The tendon degenerates as the person ages, therefore, making it vulnerable to tearing. It is for this reason that the condition is common among people in their 40s.

  • Shoulder Impingement

An impinged shoulder hinders the proper movement of bones in the arm and shoulder during arm elevation because the tendon is inflamed. This will eventually tear the supraspinatus tendon if the person does not rest and treat the impinged shoulder.

  • Repetitive overhead work or activities

Doing the same overhead work or activity over and over again can tear the supraspinatus tendon. This could eventually injure the rotator cuff muscles, of which one is the supraspinatus muscle.

  • Injurious fall or accident

The rotator cuff may become fractured following an injurious fall or accident with the arm in an elevated position. A broken rotator cuff causes a tear in the supraspinatus tendon. Bone spur formation also results in supraspinatus tendon tear.

One can find out whether the supraspinatus tendon is healthy or not by pinching the muscle on top of the shoulder. When it feels ragged and rough, the tendon is damaged or torn. If it is evenly textured, the tendon is healthy. Moreover, sharp pain is felt when the supraspinatus tendon is ripped especially when lifting the arms sideways or when performing a throwing motion.

Treatment of supraspinatus tendon tear

The doctor typically treats torn supraspinatus tendon with conservative treatment methods and rehabilitation exercises. Tendon tears usually respond to ample rest, cold compresses as well as anti-inflammatory medications. Rehabilitation exercises relieve pain, strengthen the muscles in the rotator cuff and increase shoulder movement. These involve stretching and strengthening exercises, such as:

  • Wall angles
  • Bent-over windmills
  • Pendulum exercise
  • Bent-arm exercise
  • Shoulder press
  • Static lateral exercise
  • Dumbbell front raise exercise

Patients should also be on the watch for exercises that lock, shrug or bounce the elbow joint and shoulders because these only aggravate the problem.  These include exercises such as presses, pull-downs and rows.

Surgery is required if the supraspinatus tendon has completely ruptured. It would take several months for patients of supraspinatus tendon tear to fully recover.

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