CNY Orthopedic Sports Medicine, PC: Injury: Rotator Cuff Injury

Injuries and Conditions: Shoulder: Rotator Cuff Injury

The "rotator" cuff is a collective term for a group of four muscles and their associated tendons that join together within the shoulder. These four muscles originate at different points on the shoulder blade and insert into the upper arm bone (humerus), as a common tendon. A healthy rotator cuff gives the shoulder strength, flexibility, and stability. Injury to the rotator cuff may result from aging, trauma, repetitive stress or overexertion of a weakened shoulder muscle. Injury to the rotator cuff can result in continuous pain, pain at night, tenderness and the loss of shoulder mobility.
  • Rotator cuff tears may occur with or result from other conditions in the shoulder, such as: shoulder impingement, tendonitis, shoulder instability and arthritis.
  • This injury is more common in adults, fifty years or older. Females and males are equally susceptible.
  • Non-surgical treatment can be an effective therapy for most cuff injuries.
  • A full thickness or large tear may require surgery; the rotator cuff will not repair itself without surgical repair. Younger people, more active people and those that have involvement of their dominant extremity will probably require surgical repair of their cuff tear to restore function and decrease pain.

  • Signs and Symptoms
    Rotator Cuff Injury Overview
  • Pain or weakness with overhead arm activities.
  • The sudden onset of shoulder weakness after a fall or other injury.
  • The shoulder may "catch" or "grate" when your arm is rotated or raised.
  • Pain at night, especially while sleeping on the shoulder.
  • With a complete or partial cuff tear, you may be unable to raise your arm.


  • Contact the Doctor if ...
  • The signs and symptoms indicating a rotator cuff injury are present.
  • Non-surgical therapy has failed to control the pain and restore shoulder function.
  • You experience unexpected side effects from over the counter or prescription medications.

  • Common Causes of Injury
  • Injury to the rotator cuff can result from either a traumatic movement of the shoulder, chronic wear and tear, or repetitive activity leading to overuse.
  • Individuals that partcipate in activities which require repeated overhead arm movement are at highest risk for a tear. These activities include sports such as tennis, swimming, baseball, softball, football, and certain manual labor jobs which also involve similar overhead arm movement.

  • Expectations of Recovery
  • Small or partial tears thickness tears may respond to an aggressive rotator cuff strengthening program.
  • Full thickness tears, especially large tears, often require surgical repair. Patients are generally able to return to all pre-injury activities within 3-6 months.
  • Occassionally, large tears are not repairable. Some of these patients will regain function with debridement of the cuff; however, other patients will not.


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