Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ


What is a rotator cuff arthropathy? I know I've had a large rotator cuff tear for years. Now the doctor is saying I have rotator cuff tear arthropathy.


Arthro refers to the joint. Path lets us know there is some pathology or damage done. In the case of rotator cuff tear (RCT) arthropathy, there has been some wear and tear on the joint because of the RCT instability.

When the four muscles of the rotator cuff function normally, they hold the head of the humerus inside the shoulder socket. This stable compression allows the shoulder to move easily in so many directions.

Without this compressive stability, the head of the humerus can start to slide up and out of the socket. This movement is called migration. Eventually the head of the humerus comes up against the bottom of the acromion. The acromion is the piece of bone that comes across the top of the shoulder from the scapula (shoulder blade).

The patient has pain, loss of motion, and loses function. Many other changes occur inside the joint. Tiny pieces of cartilage break lose inside the joint. The lining of the joint called the synovium starts to thicken. Calcium crystals form, further damaging the joint and soft tissues.

Rotator cuff arthropathy can be treated with a conservative management program. Non-steroidal antiinflammatories and a rehab program with a physical therapist are advised. If this doesn't work, then surgery may be needed. Kier J. Ecklund, MD, et al. Rotator Cuff Tear Arthropathy. In Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. June 2007. Vol. 15. No. 6. Pp. 340-349.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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