Shoulder Pain: Do I Have a Rotator Cuff Tear?

February 6, 2015 in STSMPT

With a superlative capacity for motion, the shoulder joint can experience multiple sources of pain. One of the more problematic shoulder conditions is the rotator cuff tear.

The rotator cuff is a collection of tendons and muscles fused to a capsule. As a group, this structure provides stability to the shoulder throughout its range of motion. Tears in these tendons are common, especially with age, but most tears are painless. However, some tears can lead to a painful and even debilitating status. There are two ways in which a rotator cuff can tear.


  1. A sudden acute tear can occur with sufficient trauma such as falling down with your arm outstretched. Acute tears can also occur when people try to lift something heavy with a sudden, jerking motion. In these cases, the pain is usually intense at the time of injury. Immediate shoulder or arm weakness is common. You may feel a snapping sensation when trying to move the arm.
  2. Chronic tearing can occur slowly over time. The likelihood of chronic tearing increases when there is also chronic tendinitis or shoulder impingement. Sports activities that can result in chronic tearing include baseball, tennis, rowing, and weightlifting. Many jobs, including household activities, can also put this type of strain on the rotator cuff. You often won’t notice when this type of tearing begins. Symptoms of pain, stiffness, weakness, and loss of motion worsen slowly over time.


With rotator cuff tears, pain is often worse at night. The pain can wake a person up. The pain during the day is often more tolerable, but it can be aggravated by specific activities.


There are two types of a rotator cuff tear:


  1. A complete, full-thickness tear in which the tear goes all the way through the tendon. This type of tear does not heal on its own.
  2. A partial tear means the tendon has torn, but the tendon is still managing an attachment between the bone and muscle.


Call us for an appointment if you have ongoing problems or shoulder pain. Conservative management will usually include:

  • Activity modification
  • Manual therapy: Targeted mobilization of the joint can often help in restoring normal function and settling the symptoms.
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Targeted strengthening
  • Medication: In some cases, medication can progress the rehabilitation and healing process. We will work with your medical doctor to provide a complete solution.


In cases that prove refractory to conservative care or when there is a massive tear, surgery may be indicated.

Rotator Cuff Tears

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