What are the signs and symptoms of a torn rotator cuff?

My name is Dr. David Geier – orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist, and anti-aging and regenerative medicine expert. I help you feel, look and perform your best, regardless of age or injury.

If you’re experiencing pain and difficulty moving your shoulder, you may have a rotator cuff tear. This injury can happen if your rotator cuff tears away from the bone in a traumatic injury or with overhead activities over time. Rotator cuff tears are common in people who play sports such as tennis, golf, baseball and volleyball. They also occur more often in middle-aged adults who have arthritis or problems with their joints that make them vulnerable to injury.

A shoulder injury can be difficult to diagnose because the shoulder is a complex joint. The pain associated with a rotator cuff tear may be similar to other common problems, such as shoulder impingement – what we used to call bursitis or tendinitis. Shoulder impingement often has similar pain as a rotator cuff tear without the weakness in your arm.

If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor to find out if you could have a torn rotator cuff:

  • Pain and weakness of the outside of the shoulder and upper arm when reaching overhead or away from your body
  • Pain with a snapping or popping sound when you move your arm overhead
  • Pain and weakness reaching behind your back, like putting on a shirt or tucking it in, or putting on a seatbelt
  • You might also have pain in your upper arm. Often patients with a rotator cuff tear don’t have shoulder pain specifically. Instead they feel it more in their upper arm.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis so that you can get the right treatment plan. Rotator cuff tears often require surgery to help them heal and reattach to the bone. While that surgery is usually done arthroscopically as an outpatient procedure, the recovery is hard and takes up to 12 months to get back to 100%.

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