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Rotator Cuff Injury

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Rotator Cuff Injury

(Rotator Cuff Tear; Impingement Syndrome)


A rotator cuff injury may be tendinitis, bursitis, or a tear of the muscles and tendons that support the shoulder. Changes and swelling in tissue can also increase pressure in the joint. Raising the arm to shoulder height can pinch tendons and other tissue. It can cause pain called impingement.

A rotator cuff injury can take 2 to 6 months or longer to fully heal.

Rotator Cuff Injury.

factsheet imagehttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=49874987EW00021_ma.jpgEW00021_maNULLjpgtorn rotator cuffNULL\\filer01a\Intellect\images\EW00021_ma.jpgNULL17NULL2004-04-292803804987_11585Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


It may be caused by:

  • A blow to the shoulder
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Moving your arms over your head often doing things like swimming, throwing, and tennis
  • Wear and tear from problems like arthritis

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in people aged 40 years and older. Other things that may raise your risk are:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Playing sports where your arms are over your head a lot, such as tennis
  • A shoulder that is not aligned well or does not move as it should


The injury may cause:

  • Pain, often when reaching overhead
  • Pain that makes it hard to sleep
  • Shoulder weakness, especially when lifting the arm
  • Popping or clicking sounds when the shoulder is moved
  • Problems fully moving the shoulder


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the shoulder.

Pictures of the shoulder may be taken with:


The problem is treated based on the level of injury. Options are:


The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Avoiding repetitive overhead motions.
  • Limiting tasks that use:
    • Extreme outward rotation of shoulder
    • Vibrating tools
  • Avoiding very heavy lifting
  • Exercising often to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint




  • Rotator cuff injury. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/rotator-cuff-injury.
  • Rotator cuff tear. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/rotator-cuff-tear.


  • Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.