Rotator Cuff Disease

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Take the Pain Quiz
senior woman with shoulder pain

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.

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
VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS
  • Rotator Cuff - Injury

    How did you injure your rotator cuff?

    Post View 11 Comments
  • Rotator Cuff - Cause

    Was the cause of your rotator cuff disease due to repetitive strains? Please share your experience.

    Post View 6 Comments
  • Rotator Cuff Disease - Symptoms

    What were your symptoms that led to a diagnosis of rotator cuff disease?

    Post View 1 Comment
  • Rotator Cuff Disease - Treatment and Exercise

    What kinds of treatment were effective for your rotator cuff disease? Did you have physical therapy?

    Post View 1 Comment

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors