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3 Signs of a Rotator Cuff Tear

The rotator cuff is the set of muscles and tendons that act together to form a cuff which holds the shoulder in place and enables it to move freely in different directions. While the shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the body, it is also the most vulnerable, especially when exposed to a great deal of stress. Those who play sports requiring repetitive shoulder motion and those with physically demanding jobs that require heavy lifting can be more exposed to developing a rotator cuff tear due to wear and tear on the shoulder. However, the rotator cuff can also be injured due to a sudden force or trauma such as falling on the shoulder or using the arm to prevent a fall.

For many, it may be difficult to differentiate whether shoulder pain is the result of overexertion and soreness, or a more severe injury. Below are 3 common indications of a rotator cuff injury.

3 Common Symptoms Associated with Torn Rotator Cuff

1. Pain

Naturally, those with a torn rotator cuff will experience pain that is most often present in the front of the shoulder but can radiate through the arm. This pain may increase with activity or when lying on the affected side. Many times rotator cuff pain makes it difficult to sleep at night. The level of pain may or may not depend on how severe the tear actually is.

2. Decreased Strength and Inability to Perform Daily Tasks

A rotator cuff tear is a disruptive injury that may prevent patients from carrying on with activities of daily living. This can include tasks such as carrying objects or raising the arm above the head. This pain and limitation in mobility may make it difficult to perform job functions especially for those in the field of construction, painting and other jobs that require manual labor.

3. Abnormal Test Results

During an initial physical exam, an orthopedic specialist will try to identify the main cause of pain by moving the patient’s arms in various positions. If the orthopedic specialist suspects and underlying injury the physical exam may be followed by a series of additional tests, including X-rays or an MRI scan. Abnormal test results are the tool that often offers the most accurate information on the severity of the injury.

What Should You Do If You Think You Have a Tear?
If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, it is best to consult an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible. A specialist will recommend the best course of action, which may involve conservative treatment (ice packs, anti-inflammatory medication, resting the joint, and physical therapy meant to strengthen the injured joint). In other instances, a surgical intervention may be recommended if what is known as a “full thickness tear” is present.

If surgery is recommended, most rotator cuff tears can be treated using an arthroscopic procedure. This is usually an outpatient procedure that delivers excellent results and only requires small incisions. In most cases, postoperative recommendations involve physical therapy to help the entire arm recover its strength and mobility.


The Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine (OSM) Center uses the collective skills of its exceptional providers to deliver the most complete musculoskeletal care available. From your first appointment, you are cared for by a team specifically built based on the best treatment for your condition. If surgery is necessary, you will be paired with an OSM surgeon who has the expertise and experience in your specific condition. Our surgeons use the latest minimally invasive techniques where appropriate to ensure fast recovery.  Contact us today to schedule a consult.

At OSM, we are passionate about athletics and sports medicine. Our staff actively competes in endurance sports like marathons, triathlons as well as golf, tennis and a variety of other sports, so we understand an athlete’s priority to get back in the game quickly. We care for athletes at the highest level of professional, college and high-school sports as well as weekend warriors.