Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries involve the bones and tissues that support your shoulder. They are your shoulder blade, or scapula; your collarbone, or clavicle; and your upper arm bone, or humerus. Your shoulder socket is a shallow, saucer-shaped structure that’s part of your shoulder blade. Your rotator cuff is a set of tendons where four muscles from your shoulder blade come together. These muscles wrap around the top of your humerus. This helps to hold the top part of your humerus in your shoulder socket.


Your rotator cuff can tear because of a sudden injury like a fall. It can also tear because of wear or use over time. This is more common as you get older. As you get older, the blood supply to your rotator cuff slowly decreases. This makes it harder for the tendons to heal. Bone spurs can also form and rub on your rotator cuff. This weakens the tendons and makes them more likely to tear.


Rotator cuff injuries can be painful, but it’s possible to have no symptoms at all

Some of the symptoms you might get with rotator cuff injuries include:

  • Pain in the front, outer side, or top of your shoulder
  • Sudden or increased pain with activity
  • Decreased ability to move your shoulder
  • Weakness, and
  • Clicking or popping noises when moving your shoulder

During your exam, your provider will look closely at your shoulder. Your provider will look for tender areas and check your shoulder’s movement and strength.

Your provider might send you for imaging tests that can show tears in your rotator cuff. These might include an ultrasound or an M-R-I scan.


If your rotator cuff injury is a result of wear and tear, your provider may recommend resting your shoulder and applying ice or heat. You may be told to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or N-SAIDs , for the pain. Many N-SAIDs, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, are available without a prescription.

As your shoulder improves, you might be given light stretches and exercises to do. Your health care provider might send you to a physical therapist. If you continue having problems, a steroid injection into your shoulder might help. If your symptoms still don’t improve, you may want to consider surgery. Your provider might recommend surgery from the start if your rotator cuff was badly injured.

Things to Remember

  • Rotator cuff injuries are common, especially with age.
  • Rotator cuff injuries can often be treated with rest, ice or heat, and nonprescription medications.
  • If your symptoms don’t improve, or if you’ve had a bad injury, you may need surgery.

To reduce your risk for rotator cuff injury, stretch and warm up before you exercise, and increase your activity level slowly. If you’re doing repetitive tasks, take breaks.

If you have shoulder problems, it’s important to talk with your provider. Together you can figure out the source of your problems and how to treat them.

What We Have Learned

  1. Hip pain is a common symptom of rotator cuff injuries. True or False?
    The answer is False.  Pain in the front, outer side, or top of your shoulder is a common symptom of a rotator cuff injury.

  2. Rotator cuff injuries can often be treated with rest, ice or heat, and nonprescription medications. True or False?
    The answer is True.  Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines can help relieve the pain.