Is there a way to know for sure if your shoulder pain is coming from your rotator cuff?

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When you’re suffering from shoulder pain, it can be difficult to determine if a serious injury is causing the problem. Since rotator cuff issues are so common, and because so many people assume their shoulder pain is coming from a rotator cuff injury, it’s worth knowing what to look for.

What the rotator cuff is

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that connect the arm to the shoulder blade. They help stabilize your shoulder joint while the bigger muscles move your arm overhead, away from your body, and behind your back.

Rotator cuff injuries can range from impingement to partial tears to complete tears.

Impingement is a painful condition that occurs when the rotator cuff tendon becomes trapped in the space under the tip of your shoulder blade. This may cause pain and stiffness, as well as decreased range of motion in your arm.

Partial tears are treated with physical therapy, which helps strengthen muscles around the shoulder blade so they can better support it during movements like throwing or lifting objects overhead. If these exercises don’t work, surgery may be needed for complete healing of your rotator cuffs. If partial rotator cuff tears don’t heal, it’s possible they can progress to complete tears.

Common symptoms of a rotator cuff injury

Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include pain reaching overhead, pain reaching away from the body, and pain reaching behind your back.

Pain is often located in the upper arm as much as the shoulder

Pain from a rotator cuff injury may radiate down into your hand, but that is less common. Often when a patient has shoulder pain that goes all the way down into the hand, especially if there is numbness or tingling, it is a sign or a nerve or disc injury in the neck.

You may have shoulder weakness in addition to pain, which may indicate a tear of your rotator cuff.

If a doctor suspects you have a tear, he or she will order an X-ray of your shoulder, and possibly an MRI.

An X-ray is a painless test that uses a small amount of radiation to produce images of bones. An MRI is an imaging technique that uses magnetic fields to produce detailed images of structures within the joint, such as the ligaments, tendons, muscles and cartilage. If you have rotator cuff injury, especially impingement or partial tears, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist for treatment.

Surgery for a complete rotator cuff tear

If you’re diagnosed with a complete rotator cuff tear, you’ll probably need surgery to repair it.

The surgeon will repair your tendon to the bone by suturing it back into place. Rehab of the shoulder and full recovery and return to activity can take as long as 6 to 12 months.


Hopefully this article has helped you better understand your rotator cuff and the symptoms of a rotator cuff injury. If you think you may have one, consider making an appointment with a doctor or orthopedic surgeon so he or she can diagnose and treat your injury appropriately.

We are looking for 5 patients with shoulder pain who want to get significantly better in the next 30 days, without cortisone shots, physical therapy, or surgery. Click this link and enter the term ‘Interested’ in the description box to learn more.

This post is meant for educational and informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.