Rotator Cuff Injury : Symptoms, Treatment & Exercises

Medically Reviewed By : Dr K. Hari Chandana 

( Fellowship in Trauma, Fellowship in pain Management )


Is your shoulder pain telling ‘NO’ to your favorite activities? Well, sometimes your shoulder also needs a break from all the work. There are several reasons why your shoulder needs a break and the most common cause is rotator cuff injury. You may be wondering what a rotator cuff injury is, so just stick with me!

Before we discuss rotator cuff injury, let me tell you about rotator cuff!

rotator cuff injury

Rotator cuff? What is it?

The rotator cuff is a set of muscles and tendons, responsible for holding your shoulder in place. They form a cuff around the upper arm bone’s head (humerus). They keep the shoulder stable, help lift your arms and reach upward.

When one or more rotator cuff tendons are damaged, your shoulder becomes stiff and can lose its mobility. This is called rotator cuff injury also referred as rotator cuff tear, rotator cuff syndrome, rotator cuff tendonitis and shoulder impingement syndrome.

What exactly causes rotator cuff injury?

You know, we really don’t concentrate on our shoulders until we feel pain. So, we don’t usually try to find out the cause, instead we try to reduce the pain until it’s chronic. But, sometimes even an acute pain may be caused because of some damage, comorbidities or other factors.

Some of them include:

How common are rotator cuff injuries?

Approximately 2 million people are visiting doctors for shoulder pain caused by rotator cuff injury. Impingements and tears are the most prevalent rotator cuff injuries. Impingements cause rotator cuff muscle to swell and pinching. Whereas tears cause when a rotator cuff tendon muscle is torn and they are less common.

Rotator cuff tears can be either partial (acute) or complete. With a partial tear your tendon is not completely separated from the arm bone i.e., it is still partially attached to it. This usually happens from one particular incident such as lifting heavy objects, falling. People who are young are mostly at risk for partial or acute tears.

When it comes to complete tear, your tendon completely separates from your bone and a hole or a rip is seen in the tendon. This usually happens in case of long-term overuse. Athletes like baseball players, wrestlers, tennis players and carpenters, painters and people above 40 years of age are at risk for this condition.

Symptoms of rotator cuff injury:

The most popular and annoying symptom of rotator cuff injury is “shoulder pain”.

These are the most common rotator cuff injury symptoms and since there are many options to treat this condition, there’s no need to worry!

How is a rotator cuff injury treated?

Treatment ranges from resting to having surgery. Getting medical attention as soon as possible helps to reduce the symptoms and stops injury from getting worse.

Non-surgical treatment can improve symptoms of rotator cuff injury in about 80% of people. Some of them may include:

Your doctor may recommend surgery in case of complete torn rotator cuff, but the treatment for rotator cuff injury will start with non-surgical treatment.

A complete torn rotator cuff treatment may include surgeries like arthroscopy. Most of the cases are done arthroscopically through small cuts(incisions).

How is it performed?

In this procedure, an arthroscope(small camera) is inserted through a small cut(incision) in your shoulder. Later insert small instruments into the incisions to remove bone spurs and reattach the tendon to your upper arm bone.

As for the partial tears, the surgeon will trim the worn out pieces of the partially torn tendon. This debridement procedure keeps your tendon from tearing it more.

Some tears are nor repairable due to the age and size of the tear. For these types of tears, you may require reverse shoulder replacement, tendon transfer or scar tissue debridement without repair. Most of the tears don’t require surgery.

How long does it take to recover from a rotator cuff tear?

Post surgery, you may need to wear a sling to prevent your arm from moving for at least 4 to 6 weeks. Your doctor then recommends physical therapy. Most people recover their shoulder strength and its functioning within 4 to 6 months after surgery, but complete recovery may take up to 12 to 18 months.

5 easy rotator cuff strengthening exercises:

Rotator cuff strengthening exercises will help improve your shoulder’s strength, range of motion so that you can return to doing your favorite activities. Here are some strengthening exercises recommended by medical experts:

1. Pendulum exercise:

2. Lawn mower pull:

3. Scapula setting:

4. Side- lying external rotation:

5. Elbow extension:

How to prevent a rotator cuff injury?

Rest… Reboot… Rise!

Rotator cuff injury is quite common. All you need to do is rest to achieve your best outcomes. If you experience pain even after that, consult your doctor and seek medical attention immediately. Don’t let your shoulder load hurt a lot! As an athlete or person who works a physical job, it will bench you. But it doesn’t mean you can give up on your career. So as long as you take care of yourself, nothing can stop you!