What Does a Torn Shoulder Ligament Feel Like?

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Shoulder ligaments are important stabilisers of the ball-socket joint. They can be injured following sporting injuries or traumatic dislocations. A torn shoulder ligament can cause pain (which usually settle six weeks after an acute injury), and shoulder instability. You may feel your shoulder ‘popping out’ with certain movements.

If you feel like your shoulder is unstable and you have lost confidence with certain movements, your shoulder surgeon will arrange for an MRI scan. It is likely that you will require rehabilitation with physiotherapy and ‘key-hole’ surgery to repair the torn shoulder ligament.


What is a rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is a very important group of tendons, made up of four muscles, that covers the shoulder ball-socket joint. These four muscles work together to provide the wide range of movement that we take for granted in our shoulder joint. Another important function of the rotator cuff is that it provides stability in our shoulder. It does this by keeping the ball within the socket of the shoulder joint.


How can I injure my rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff tendons can be damaged due to acute trauma or over time due to ‘wear and tear’. Acute trauma can be; following sports injury, dislocation or falling on to shoulder. Following an acute injury, you may experience sudden severe pain in the shoulder. Injury due to ‘wear and tear’ usually causes gradual worsening dull pain in the shoulder that gets worse over a period of two to three months.


How do I know if I have damaged my rotator cuff?

Following injury to your rotator cuff, you will experience pain in the top and side (deltoid region) of your shoulder. The pain that you experience can become worse over time. It is often made worse with activity, particularly ‘above head’ or ‘hands behind the back’ movements. Other common symptoms following injury include weakness when lifting and pain when lying on the affected shoulder.


Is my rotator cuff torn or strained?

Unfortunately, RTC strains and tears present very similarly. If you have sustained an acute trauma to your shoulder, you can have either a strain or tear. Both conditions will cause shoulder pain and symptoms described above. You shoulder surgeon will organise an MRI scan for you to help distinguish a RTC strain from a tear.


Can my rotator cuff injury heal itself?

Following your MRI scan, you shoulder surgeon will advise you whether your RTC is torn. If you have a strain, you will require rest and rehabilitation with physiotherapy. In the majority of strain cases, recovery can take up to 3 months. If you have sustained a tear, your surgeon will discuss treatment options with you. Unfortunately, RTC tears do not heal themselves. Without treatment, your symptoms including pain, weakness and loss of range of movement can get worse. Treatment options can include injections, physio rehabilitation and/or ‘key hole’ surgery.

Find out more about Mr Jae Rhee, our Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon who specialises in shoulder and upper limb disorders and authored this blog.

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