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What Is A Rotator Cuff Injury? How To Tell If You Have A Rotator Cuff Injury?

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder. These muscles enable the rotations of the shoulder. The rotator cuff muscles also help stabilize the shoulder joint.

Rotator cuff injuries affect the shoulder muscles and impact the inner or outer rotation of the shoulder. These injuries are very common and can often occur due to repetitive tasks such as playing sports. In this article, we will discuss rotator cuff injuries.

First, let's look at the symptoms related to a rotator cuff injury.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injury

The symptoms of rotator cuff injury are the following:

  • Dull aching pain in the shoulder which can worsen when sleeping on the affected side
  • Inflammation and swelling in the tendons which can lead to tendonitis
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Pain while moving the arm
  • Weakness in the shoulder
  • Clicking or popping sound while moving the arm

Causes of Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries commonly occur due to gradual wear and tear of the tendon tissue. Repetitive activities can irritate and damage the tendon. Most rotator cuff injuries can occur due to sports injuries or other accidents.

Here are certain risk factors that can increase the chances of rotator cuff injury:

Age: the risk of rotator cuff injury can increase with age. Rotator cuff tears are common in people above 60 years of age.

Certain Jobs: certain occupations which involve repeated activities or lifting heavy weights can lead to the wear and tear of muscles. Occupations like carpentry or house painting can gradually damage the rotator cuff.

Sports: certain sports like tennis, baseball and weightlifting can cause rotator cuff injuries.

How do I know if I have a rotator cuff injury?

If you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms, then it can point to a rotator cuff injury. However, a proper diagnosis from your health care provider is important to identify if it is a rotator cuff injury. The health care provider will perform a physical exam by pressing on different parts of the affected shoulder and move your arm in various positions. They will also assess the strength of the muscles around your shoulders and arms.

They may also perform imaging tests such as:

X-rays: a rotator cuff tear will not show up on an X-ray. However, this test can show bone spurs or other causes of the pain like arthritis.

Ultrasound: this can help in assessing the structures of your shoulder during movement. It can also help your health care provider compare the affected shoulder and the healthy shoulder.

MRI: this technology can show all structures of the shoulder in detail.

How is rotator cuff injury treated?

Rotator cuff injury can gradually worsen over time, hence seeking treatment quickly can keep it from progressing.

Here are some nonsurgical treatments that can improve the symptoms:

  • Exercises to strengthen muscles and restore movement
  • Applying hot and cold packs to the affected shoulder to reduce swelling
  • Physical therapy
  • Resting the affected arm and wearing sling to limit motion
  • Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen


The most common complication is re-tearing the rotator cuff after it was healed. If the original tear was large, then there are more chances of a re-tear. If the injury needs surgery to repair, then the chances of postoperative complications are less.

Complications related to the procedure can be as follows:

  • Frozen shoulder
  • Permanent stiffness
  • Loss of motion
  • Weakness of the rotator cuff

How can rotator cuff injury be prevented?

If you are an athlete or have an occupation that requires repeated use of the shoulder, then it's best to take frequent breaks. This can reduce the pressure on your shoulder and not lead to wear and tear.

Physiotherapy can be a great way to prevent rotator cuff injury. A physiotherapist can show you stretches and strengthening exercises can help improve movement and flexibility of the rotator cuff.

If you experience shoulder pain, you can apply ice to the affected area as it helps reduce swelling.

Shoulder pain is common and affects people of all ages. If you are experiencing shoulder pain you can improve it with resting and applying ice to the affected area. However, if your shoulder pain worsens, restricts your range of motion, and makes it difficult to perform daily activities then consult your doctor.

A proper diagnosis can help you determine if you have rotator cuff injury or any other problem that is causing pain.