Rotator Cuff Injury

Your rotator cuff consists of muscles and tendons that wrap around your upper arm bone to keep your shoulder in place and help you lift your arms above your head. This article discusses what happens when the rotator cuff gets injured. We will talk about the different types of rotator cuff injuries and how they can be identified and treated.

If you would like to know more about rotator cuff injuries, feel free to get in contact with Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine. Our shoulder surgeons provide expert treatments tailored to our patient’s needs. You can find us in Granville and Coshocton, Ohio.

What is a Rotator Cuff Injury?

A rotator cuff injury is when one or more rotator cuff tendons are torn. The rotator cuff tendon can either partially or completely detach from the head of the humerus. Tears are more common in the supraspinatus tendon, but other parts of the rotator cuff can also be affected.

Rotator cuff tendinitis can sometimes lead to a rotator cuff tear. This is a condition where the tendons become irritated and inflamed and the fibers can become frayed. Over time, the tendon can weaken and eventually tear.

Another possible cause of rotator cuff injury is through sudden force. Fortunately, our shoulder doctors are ready to provide you with the quality care you need.

Types of Rotator Cuff Injury

Rotator cuff injuries are classified according to the tear. The different types of injury are as follows:

  • Partial tear: The rotator cuff tendon does not completely detach from the bone. The tear partially goes through the thickness of the tendon. This type of tear thins the tendon.
  • Full-thickness tear: The rotator cuff tendon completely detaches from the bone. A full-thickness tear can be further classified:
    • A full-thickness incomplete tear is when only a small part of the tendon is detached from the bone.
    • A full-thickness complete tear is when a tendon is completely detached from the bone. 
A man with a rotator cuff injury.

What Are the Causes of Rotator Cuff Tears?

There are two main causes of rotator cuff tears:

  • Sudden injury: You could get an acute injury if you fall on an outstretched arm or lift something heavy with a sudden force.
  • Wear and Tear: Most rotator cuff injuries are caused by wear and tear over a long time. Contributing factors include repetitive stress and lack of blood supply.

Risk Factors for a Rotator Cuff Tear

Risk factors for a rotator cuff injury include the following:

  • Those over 40 years
  • Repetitive lifting in sports or at work

Signs and Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Injury

The most common rotator cuff tear symptoms include:

  • Pain: You might feel pain when resting, especially at night if you’re lying on the affected shoulder. Also, lifting your arm or doing certain movements may cause pain.
  • Weakness: You may notice weakness when lifting or rotating your arm.
  • Crackling Sensation: Sometimes, you might hear or feel a crackling sensation when moving your shoulder in certain ways.

If the tear happens suddenly, like from a fall, it can cause intense pain, a snapping sensation, and immediate weakness in your upper arm.

Tears that develop over time due to overuse can also cause pain and weakness. Initially, the pain might be mild and only happens when you lift your arm, but it can get worse over time.

At first, you might find relief with over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen, especially for mild pain. As time goes on, the pain might become more constant, even when you’re not moving your arm. It may also interfere with everyday activities like combing your hair or reaching behind your back.

When to Call a Doctor

Short-term shoulder pain can be evaluated by your family doctor. If you have sudden arm weakness after an injury, see your doctor right away.

How is a Rotator Cuff Injury Diagnosed?

Your doctor will begin diagnosing your rotator cuff injury with a physical exam. During the physical examination, your doctor will test the strength of your shoulder and move your arm in different positions.

The diagnosis may include imaging tests. X-rays can be used to rule out arthritis as a potential cause. MRI scans can show soft tissues and can be used to determine the extent of the rotator cuff tear.

How is a Torn Rotator Cuff Treated?

Treatment for a torn rotator cuff usually begins with non-surgical methods. These methods include rest, modifying activities to avoid shoulder strain, using anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, and undergoing physical therapy to strengthen the shoulder muscles and improve flexibility. If these measures don’t provide relief, a steroid injection may be considered.

If non-surgical treatments don’t work, surgery may be recommended, especially if the pain persists or if the patient leads an active lifestyle involving overhead activities or sports. Surgical options include open repair, arthroscopic repair, or mini-open repair.

  • Open repair involves a larger incision in the shoulder joint and may be necessary for complex tears or if additional reconstruction is needed.
  • Arthroscopic repair is less invasive and involves smaller incisions, using a camera and miniature instruments to guide the repair.
  • Mini-open repair combines aspects of both open and arthroscopic techniques, offering a smaller incision while allowing direct visualization of the shoulder structures during repair.


Most patients report improved shoulder strength and less pain after rotator cuff repair surgery. Patients tend to rate all three surgery methods similarly for pain relief, strength improvement, and overall satisfaction.

Key Takeaways About Rotator Cuff Injuries

A rotator cuff injury involves tears in the tendons that support the shoulder joint. These tears are often the result of sudden trauma or long-term wear and tear. Treatment usually begins with non-surgical methods such as rest, medication, and physical therapy.

In some cases, surgical procedures like open repair, arthroscopic repair, or mini-open repair may be used. Most patients experience improved shoulder function and reduced pain following treatment, with high satisfaction rates across different surgical techniques.

Schedule a Consultation Today

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain or suspect a rotator cuff injury, contact us at Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine in Granville and Cohocton, OH. We provide expert care tailored to your needs. Don’t let shoulder pain hold you back. Take the first step towards recovery today by making an appointment to see a skilled shoulder surgeon!

Medically reviewed by
Edward L. Westerheide, M.D.