Rotator cuff tear

Rotator cuff tear

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

The shoulder is made up of three bones: the scapulae (shoulder blade), the humerus (upper arm bone), and the clavicle (collarbone). The rotator cuff connects the humerus to the scapula. The rotator cuff is formed by the tendons of four muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.

When any one these muscles or tendons tears this is considered a rotator cuff tear. Torn rotator cuffs are common rotator cuff injures.

Torn rotator cuffs can occur from sudden jerking movements, falling on an outstretched hand, or lifting something that is too heavy. Tears can also be a result of other shoulder injuries, such as a dislocated shoulder or a fractured (broken) collarbone.

Rotator cuff tears are also wear-and-tear injuries, resulting from repetitive stress on the shoulder's tendons and muscles. Tendons degenerate from use over time, and are more common as we age. Therefore, individuals over 40 years of age are at risk for torn rotator cuffs.

Individuals who also overuse their shoulder muscles, like weightlifters, and those who do repetitive overhead activities, such as painters and carpenters, are also at risk.


The symptoms of a torn rotator cuff are:

    Arm and shoulder pain.

  • Shoulder weakness.

  • Shoulder tenderness.

  • Loss of shoulder movement, especially overhead.


An orthopedist usually initially examine your shoulder for pain, tenderness, and loss of motion as you move your arm in all directions. An x-ray may be done to rule out fractures and bone spurs. Based on these results, he/she may order other tests and procedures either right away or later, including:

    An arthrogram, which is an x-ray or MRI that is taken after a special dye has been injected into your shoulder joint to outline its soft structures.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which creates images of your shoulder and surrounding structures with sound waves.

  • Arthroscopy, a surgical procedure in which a small instrument is inserted into your shoulder joint so your doctor can look directly at your rotator cuff.


If your tear is a minor one, it can be left to heal by itself if it does not interfere with your everyday activities. Your treatment plan should include:

    Proper sitting posture, in which your head and shoulders are balanced.

  • Rest for your shoulder, which means avoiding strenuous activity that causes pain.

  • Ice packs at least once a day, and preferably two or three times a day.

  • Stretching exercises to avoid stiffness in the shoulder.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • Possibly physical therapy to help you learn exercises you can do at home to stretch and/or strengthen your shoulder.

If you have a bad tear, you may need to have it repaired by arthroscopy. Arthroscopy is also used to perform surgery on a joint, not only for seeing its interior. The rough edges of a torn tendon can be trimmed and left to heal. Larger tears can be stitched back together. After surgery, your treatment plan will include physical therapy to strengthen your shoulder as it heals.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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