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Rotator Cuff Injury

What is rotator cuff injury?

The rotator cuff consists of muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder in place. It is one of the most important parts of the shoulder. The rotator cuff allows a person to lift his or her arms and reach up. An injury to the rotator cuff, such as a tear, may happen suddenly when falling on an outstretched hand or develop over time due to repetitive activities. Rotator cuff tears are also due to aging.

What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear?

Anatomy of the shoulder
Click Image to Enlarge

The following are the most common symptoms of a rotator cuff tear. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Recurrent pain, especially with certain activities and at night

  • Pain that prevents sleeping on the injured side

  • Grating or cracking sounds when moving the arm

  • Limited ability to move arm

  • Muscle weakness

The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is a rotator cuff injury diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for a rotator cuff injury may include the following:

  • X-ray. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

A rotator cuff may tear partially or fully. Partial-thickness tears do not completely sever the tendon from the shoulder.

Treatment for a rotator cuff injury

Specific treatment for a rotator cuff injury will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent and duration of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Rest

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications

  • Strengthening and stretching exercises

  • Ultrasound therapy

  • Corticosteroid injection

  • Surgery (for severe injuries)

Online Medical Reviewer: Larson, Kim APRN, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 10/30/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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