Rotator Cuff Injury

Make an Appointment

Rotator cuff injury may include tendinitis, strain, or tear of the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and four separate tendons that fuse together to surround the shoulder joint.

Causes of a Rotator Cuff Injury

Causes of a rotator cuff injury include:

rotator cuff injury
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Direct blow to the shoulder area
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Chronic degenerative wear and tear on the tendons:
    • Arthritis may decrease the space for the tendons
    • Chronic instability of the humerus may traumatize the tendons
  • Repetitive overhead motion of the arm such as in:
    • Swimming
    • Baseball (mainly pitching)
    • Tennis

Dr. Werner Explains Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons to fuse together to surround the shoulder joint. Wear and tear over the years leads to rotator cuff injuries such as tendinitis, strains or tears. Most treatment is non-surgical, but surgery is available for more severe damage. View rotator cuff transcript


A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for a rotator cuff injury include:

  • Age: 40 or older
  • Heavy lifting
  • Abnormalities of the shoulder, or in rotator cuff anatomy or function
  • Activities that involve repetitive overhead arm motion such as throwing or work related
  • Weakened shoulder muscles from inactivity or previous injury


  • Recurrent, constant pain, particularly when reaching overhead
  • Pain at night that prevents you from sleeping
  • Shoulder muscle weakness, especially when lifting the arm
  • Popping or clicking sounds when the shoulder is moved
  • Limited range of motion in the shoulder joint

Diagnosing Rotator Cuff Injuries

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will carefully examine your shoulder. You will be asked to move your shoulder in several directions.

Tests may include:

  • Ultrasound
  • Arthrogram
  • MRI
  • Arthroscopy

Rotator Cuff Injury Treatment

The treatment will depend on the extent of your injury, level of pain, and amount of immobility. The first step is usually a nonsurgical approach.


  • Rest — to help the shoulder heal. The doctor may recommend that you wear an arm sling to help rest the shoulder area.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — to help control the pain if there is inflammation
  • Topical pain medicines (such as creams or patches) that are applied to the skin
  • Corticosteroid injections—to help reduce swelling and pain
  • Injection of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) to reduce bleeding
  • Ice — to help reduce swelling and pain. Apply ice to shoulder area for 15 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day.
  • Physical therapy — to help strengthen and increase motion in the shoulder area



This involves surgery on the bony structures that impinge the rotator cuff. Surgery can be arthroscopic or open.


A small instrument is inserted into the shoulder and used to remove bone spurs or degenerated portions of the rotator cuff tendons. Lesser tears can be repaired during arthroscopy as well.

Mini-Open Repair with Arthroscopy

This combines arthroscopy with an incision in the shoulder joint. Through the incision, the doctor can suture larger tears in the tendons or muscles.

Open Surgery

This is used to repair the injured tendon or muscle in more severe cases. A tissue transfer or a tendon graft can be done during surgery if the tear is too large to be closed together. In the most severe cases, a joint replacement may be necessary.


Depending on the extent of your injury, full recovery can take anywhere from two to six months, and sometimes longer.

If you are diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury, follow your doctor's instructions.

Rotator Cuff Injury Prevention

To reduce your chances of getting a rotator cuff injury:

  • Avoid overhead repetitive motion
  • Limit duration of work that involves
    • Moving hands above shoulders
    • Using shoulder in extreme outward rotation
    • Vibrating tools
  • Avoid heavy lifting
  • Exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice