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from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Diseases & Conditions



Staying Healthy

Patient Story: Rotator Cuff Tear

Joshua Curry is a self-employed farmer in Alpha, Illinois. He also owns and operates a bulldozer, excavating, and blasting business with his wife Jody. When he isn't working on the farm, Josh is a volunteer emergency medical technician and fireman and an active member of the Knox County Snowmobile Search and Rescue Team.

The father of three spends his days working with livestock and operating heavy equipment. In September of 2012, Josh fell off a grain leg, landing on his shoulder.

Josh was taken to the local emergency room and treated for a shoulder dislocation. However, several months went by and he continued to experience pain and restricted mobility. "I was not able to raise my arm or shoulder, which made me very limited," he recalls.

Doctors believed that Josh suffered nerve damage and a torn rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that work together to help stabilize the shoulder and rotate and lift the arm. When one of the tendons becomes torn, it separates from the head of the upper arm bone (humerus). Many patients are treated non-surgically, with activity modification, physical therapy, or even steroid injections. However, for acute injuries like Josh's, significant tears, or pain lasting more than six months, surgical treatment is recommended.

Josh was referred to Carolyn Hettrich, MD, MPH, an orthopaedic surgeon at the University of Iowa, for evaluation. Dr. Hettrich focuses her practice on sports medicine with a particular interest in shoulder injury.

On February 22, 2013, Dr. Hettrich surgically repaired Josh's torn rotator cuff, reattaching his tendon to the head of the humerus bone. After his surgery, Josh's arm was immobilized for several weeks to allow the tendon to heal. He eventually began passive exercises to improve his range of motion, followed by physical therapy to regain strength.

Rotator cuff tears are a common cause of disability and pain in adults, causing shoulder weakness and loss of function. It is estimated that two million people annually seek medical care for rotator cuff tears in the United States.

Since his surgery, Josh has been able to fully return to the quality of life he enjoyed before his accident. He is able to operate the equipment on his farm and hold his children. Josh hopes to be able to maintain the full use of his arm and shoulder in the future.

Last Reviewed

September 2014

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.