Rotator Cuff Injury

What is a rotator cuff injury?

Your rotator cuff consists of muscles and tendons that hold your shoulder in place. It's one of the most important parts of your shoulder.

Your rotator cuff allows you to lift your arms and reach up. Each year, millions of people in the U.S. go to their healthcare providers because of a rotator cuff problem. A rotator cuff tear is a common cause of pain and disability among adults.

Front view of shoulder joint showing ligaments, muscles and tendons. Front view of shoulder joint showing torn rotator cuff.

What are the symptoms of rotator cuff tear?

Symptoms may be a bit different for each person. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain that keeps coming back, especially when doing certain things, such as lifting over your head
  • Pain that prevents you from sleeping on your injured side
  • Grating or cracking sounds when moving your arm
  • Limited ability to move your arm
  • Muscle weakness

The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear may be caused by other conditions or health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a rotator cuff injury diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will take a complete health history and do a physical exam. You may also have diagnostic tests, such as:

  • X-ray. This test uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make images of internal tissues, bones, and organs on film.
  • MRI. This test uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

A rotator cuff may tear partly or fully. Partial-thickness tears don't completely remove the tendon from the shoulder.

How is a rotator cuff injury treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It'll also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Rest
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Strengthening and stretching exercises
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Corticosteroid shot (injection)
  • Surgery for severe injuries or tears
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