Rotator cuff tears

Shoulder joint tear

Rotator cuff tears can destabilise your shoulder joint, making it difficult to raise your arms and perform routine tasks

What is a rotator cuff tear?

Rotator cuff tears are amongst the most common causes of shoulder pain. The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and their tendons, which connect the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone (humerus) forming the shoulder joint. A rotator cuff tear will weaken your shoulder and restrict mobility.

Need to know

  • What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear? icon plus

    Some people may have a rotator cuff tear and not experience any symptoms. Others may experience acute pain and disability. Symptoms may include:

    • pain in the shoulder area
    • weakness when lifting or rotating your arm
    • a cracking, popping or grating sensation when lifting your arm in certain positions
    • neck pain may accompany shoulder pain
  • Diagnosing a rotator cuff tear icon plus

    Your consultant will perform a physical assessment to diagnose a rotator cuff tear. This will involve examining the particular movements of your shoulder and assessing it for pain and weakness. You may also need:

    • X-rays. This will not show the tears in the rotator cuff but may reveal associated conditions.
    • An ultrasound scan. Your consultant will be able to examine your muscles, ligaments and soft tissue using this high frequency sound wave scan.
    • An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. An MRI is able to detect bones as well as muscles, ligaments and soft tissue.
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Treatment depends on many factors including symptoms, the age and size of the tear, occupational and lifestyle requirements. Possible treatment options include:

    • Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications to help ease the pain
    • Steroid injections to reduce the swelling in the shoulder and act as a painkiller.
    • Physiotherapy. This may include regular treatments with a physiotherapist as well as exercises you can perform regularly at home to reduce pain and build up strength.
    • Surgery, such as a rotator cuff repair. If your rotator cuff tear is large, or smaller tears do not respond to the above treatments, your consultant may recommend surgical intervention.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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