How to know if a rotator cuff is torn

Written by lori newell
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How to know if a rotator cuff is torn

A torn rotator cuff is a common shoulder injury. The shoulder is a very complex joint as it can move in many directions. If you participate in a sport that requires repetitive arm motions or your everyday life requires you to use your shoulders, you can injure the rotator cuff. Recovery from a torn rotator cuff can be slow. Learning to recognise the signs and symptoms can help you to get treatment for this condition before you need surgery.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    If you have torn the muscles of the rotator cuff you will have specific symptoms. This includes atrophy of the muscles around the shoulder. It may take some time before this is visible to you.

  2. 2

    Notice if you have pain when trying to lift the arm up or when lowering it from a full lifted position. When the rotator cuff is torn you will find it hard, and eventually be unable to lift your arm overhead or rotate it.

  3. 3

    Be aware if there are any crunching sounds as you move your shoulder.

  1. 1

    The pain from a rotator cuff tear is usually isolated to the area right around the shoulder. However, sometimes the pain can also radiate down the arm.

  2. 2

    There may also be a popping sound as you move your arm. You may have just mild pain or a sensation of the arm "catching" with specific movements.

  3. 3

    Treat symptoms immediatley. It is common for patients go for months with a rotator cuff tear before seeking treatment. Unfortunately, this just causes more damage to the joint.

  1. 1

    Get a physical exam. Your doctor can perform an exam to determine if your rotator cuff is torn. They may press around the area to determine if there is any tenderness or deformity in the joint.

  2. 2

    Have your range of motion tested. During a physical exam your doctor will determine if there is a reduction in the shoulder's range of motion or a loss of strength in the shoulder or arm. He or she will also test to see if there is any instability in the joint during movement.

  3. 3

    Get an X-rays, MRI's or an ultrasound. All of these tests can show if there is an actual tear in the rotator cuff as well as how large the tear is. These tests will also show if the tendon has actually dislocated from the bone.

Tips and warnings

  • If you participate in sports that require repetitive arm or shoulder movements make sure you also do a solid strength training and stretching program. Keeping the shoulder muscles strong and flexible will go along way to preventing injury.
  • Never ignore symptoms such as chronic pain or the inability to move your arm. The longer you use your arm and shoulder the larger the tear in the rotator cuff can become. Once your tear becomes too big you will need surgery.

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