Rotator Cuff Disease

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Rotator cuff disease facts

  • The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons.
  • Rotator cuff disease is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain.
  • The rotator cuff can be injured by degeneration, inflammation, or trauma.
  • The diagnosis of rotator cuff disease can be confirmed by radiology testing.
  • The treatment of rotator cuff disease depends on the severity of the injury to the tendons of the rotator cuff.

What is the rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is the group of four tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. The tendons hook up to the four muscles that move the shoulder in various directions.

There are four muscles whose tendons form the rotator cuff: the subscapularis muscle, which moves the arm by turning it inward (internal rotation); the supraspinatus muscle, which is responsible for elevating the arm and moving it away from the body; the infraspinatus muscle, which assists the lifting of the arm during turning the arm outward (external rotation); and the teres minor muscle, which also helps in the outward turning of the arm.

What causes rotator cuff disease?

Rotator cuff disease is damage to the rotator cuff from any cause. It can be from an acute injury or from repetitive strains. This can lead to minor strain injury, partial tear of the tendons, or complete tear of tendons with loss of shoulder joint function. Rotator cuff injury is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain.

What are risk factors for rotator cuff disease?

Risk factors for rotator cuff disease include any activity that involves sudden strain movements of the shoulder against resistance. These include lifting weights, lifting overhead, tennis, swimming, sports where objects are thrown (baseball or softball pitchers, football quarterbacks, etc.), and taking luggage off of racks, etc.

How is the rotator cuff injured?

The rotator cuff can be injured because of degeneration with aging or inflammation due to tendinitis, bursitis, or arthritis of the shoulder. The rotator cuff is commonly injured by trauma (such as from falling and injuring the shoulder or overuse in sports). Rotator cuff injury is particularly common in people who perform repetitive overhead motions that can stress the rotator cuff. These motions are frequently associated with muscle fatigue.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/16/2015

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Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms and Signs

Rotator cuff injuries cause chronic shoulder pain. Symptoms are due to inflammation and swelling in the rotator cuff. Signs of an injury include:

  • Pain in the shoulder and upper arm. Pain is felt often at night when lying on the affected shoulder.
  • Pain may also be felt when moving the arm in certain ways. The pain stops before the elbow.
  • If the injury is acute (sudden) pain will be intense and immediate.
  • If the injury is degenerative (damage occurs over time) the pain may be mild at first.
  • Weakness or loss of motion in the arm or shoulder.
  • A grating or snapping sensation or cracking sound when moving the shoulder.