Can A Shoulder CT Detect A Torn Rotator Cuff?
Shoulder injuries are no strangers to athletes, workers, and anyone who relies on their upper body's mobility. The integrity of the rotator cuff, a group of tendons and muscles stabilizing the shoulder joint, plays a pivotal role in maintaining fluid motion. In the United States, rotator cuff injuries affect 2 – 4 million people every year.
Let's explore how the rotator cuff works and understand how a shoulder CT can help!
Understanding The Rotator Cuff
Picture the shoulder as a complex network of bones, tendons, and muscles collaborating to create graceful movements. The rotator cuff, a group of four tendons, facilitates this symphony by securing the humeral head within the shoulder socket. When this ensemble is disrupted – often due to degeneration, traumatic injuries, or repetitive motions – a tear can occur, hindering the shoulder's dexterity.
What Are The Symptoms of A Torn Rotator Cuff?
A rotator cuff tears can occur in two ways:
- A sudden acute tear may happen when you fall on your arm while it is stretched out.
- A chronic tear of the rotator cuff tendon occurs slowly over time, with tendinitis occurring beforehand.
Rotator cuff tendonitis is the inflammation or irritation of the shoulder joint. Symptoms of rotator cuff tendonitis typically worsen over time, and eventually, can lead to a tear if the lifestyle changes or precautions do not occur. These symptoms may include:
- Pain or swelling in the front of the shoulder or side of the arm.
- Pain when raising or lowering the arm.
- Clicking or popping sound when the arm is moved.
- Pain that disrupts sleep
- Loss of mobility or strength in the affected arm.
A partial or completely torn rotator cuff will exhibit much more severe symptoms. In addition to the symptoms above, a tear may include:
- Inability or difficulty to lift objects.
- Inability or difficulty to raise your affected arm.
Risk Factors of Rotator Cuff Tears
Several risk factors contribute to the likelihood of rotator cuff tears. These include age, repetitive overhead motions, heavy lifting, and poor posture. Athletes engaged in sports demanding repetitive arm movements such as baseball pitchers, are also at higher risk.
Detecting Rotator Cuff Tears With Shoulder CT Scans
CT scans, short for computed tomography, are great investigators. They create image “slices” of the body, combined to create a cross-sectional view. Think of peeling layers back from an onion. With a rotating X-ray and advanced computing, CT scans create high-resolution visuals that leave little room for mysteries. The advantage? A comprehensive view that captures not just bones, but also the intricate interplay of soft tissues.
In some cases, a contrast dye may be introduced. A CT scan using contrast illuminates soft tissues with increased clarity with vivid clarity. Contrast studies have the ability to reveal conditions that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Can CT scans spot a rotator cuff tear? Absolutely. A CT scan of the shoulder will visualize the structure of the shoulder, allowing for precise information to be collected. After the study, a board-certified, subspecialized radiologist will view the images and develop a detailed report for you. The radiologist and your orthopedist will work in tandem to develop a treatment plan that works best for your situation.
Experience and Safety
CT scans are completely non-invasive and painless. You will lie comfortably as the scanner begins to work its magic. On average, a CT scan of the shoulder takes about 30 minutes to complete.
While CT scans do involve radiation, the benefits outweigh the risks. Rigorous safety measures are in place to minimize radiation exposure.
For those with claustrophobia, do not worry! CT scanners are completely open and spacious, making sure you are comfortable throughout the entire study.
Preventing Rotator Cuff Injuries
Regular exercise to strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint can provide a protective shield. Practice proper lifting techniques, maintain good posture, and listen to your body. If pain or discomfort arises, don't ignore it – seeking medical attention early can prevent minor issues from escalating into major injuries.
How to Schedule A Shoulder CT
It is important to remember a recommendation to get a shoulder CT doesn't mean your rotator cuff is torn. A shoulder CT will help rule out certain conditions to ensure a proper diagnosis is made.
At South Jersey Radiology, diagnostic and advanced imaging studies including CT scans, are up to 60% less than hospital-based imaging centers. Call us today to schedule an appointment at any of the following locations:
- Greentree Office – Marlton, NJ
- Haddonfield Office – Haddonfield, NJ
- Voorhees Office – Voorhees Township, NJ
- Route 73 Office – Voorhees Township, NJ
- Washington Township Office – Sewell, NJ
- West Deptford Office – West Deptford, NJ
Learn more about the board-certified, subspecialized radiologists who read and interpret studies at SJRA, here.
While CT scans are valuable, alternatives like MRI scans play an important role in diagnosing rotator cuff tears. Your referring doctor will determine the most appropriate approach based on your specific case.
Your referring doctor will provide you with specific instructions. Generally, you might need to avoid eating before the scan and inform the CT technologist about any allergies or health conditions.
Radiation exposure is a concern during pregnancy. If you're pregnant or suspect you might be, it's essential to inform your referring doctor before undergoing any imaging studies.
In many cases, physical therapy can be an effective treatment for rotator cuff tears, especially for partial tears. However, the severity of the tear and individual factors will influence the recommended course of action. Consultation with your referring doctor is important for personalized treatment decisions.