Rotator cuff tear

man in shirt with shoulder pain

​A torn rotator cuff occurs when there is a tear in the four tendons that connect your upper arm bone (humerus) to your shoulder blade. The rotator cuff helps stabilize the shoulder joint socket and allows you to lift and rotate your arm. 

Rotator cuff tears can be caused by gradual wear and tear or by a traumatic injury to the joint. Work or sports that involve repetitive overhead motion can increase the risk for developing a tear. It is most common in people over the age of 40. A tear often begins as a small fray (like loose threads) and may progress to a partial or complete tear.

Rotator cuff tear symptoms

The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear are: 

  • A crackling sensation (crepitus) when moving the shoulder

  • Dull pain when your shoulder is at rest 

  • Pain that worsens when lifting or rotating your arm 

  • Pain that increases when you sleep on the affected shoulder

  • Weakness in the shoulder 

Rotator cuff tear diagnosis

A torn rotator cuff is diagnosed using one or more of the following tests:

  • A physical examination—your doctor will assess your shoulder for pain, range of motion and weakness.

  •  X-rays— an image created on photographic film or electronically on a digital system to diagnose illnesses and injuries.

  • MRI scans—a diagnostic tool that offers the most sensitive, non-invasive way of imaging the shoulder and other areas of the body.

Rotator cuff tear treatment 

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, we offer both nonsurgical and surgical treatment for rotator cuff tears. 

Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Observation—a period where your doctor monitors your shoulder for worsening symptoms.

  • Pain medication—medication to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation associated with a rotator cuff tear.

  • Physical therapy—techniques that treat shoulder pain and help patients return to their normal activities without pain.

  • Surgery—with effective rehabilitation, rotator cuff surgery helps people regain the lost function in the shoulder. Some partial rotator cuff tears and most full tears require surgery. 

If your doctor recommends rotator cuff surgery, talk about the risks, benefits and potential outcomes. When left untreated, a rotator cuff will cause increased pain and decreased strength and range of motion in the shoulder. 

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our expert specialists and surgeons provide exceptional care for rotator cuff tears so you can get back to your daily activities and sports.

Find a shoulder specialist near you.