If you are experiencing pain or dysfunction in your shoulder, there is a good chance it could be your rotator cuff.
Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common types of shoulder injury; they affect athletes and non-athletes alike. A rotator cuff tear is often caused by repetitive motion injuries such as those sustained from playing sports or working at a job where repeated shoulder movement is required.
In this article, we will examine the function of the rotator cuff, common sources of rotator cuff injuries and tendonitis, and when to get help for rotator cuff tendonitis.
How Rotator Cuffs Work and Why They’re Important
The rotator cuff is a set of tendons that support four important muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis.1 These muscles are primarily responsible for your shoulder’s range of motion, as they rotate the shoulder joint and help to stabilize it during movement.
Your rotator cuff muscles allow your shoulders to move outwards as well as upwards. Every day, you’ll find yourself using them to raise yourself up off the ground or to push something away. Rotator cuff muscles perform a wide variety of tasks, from including lifting heavy objects off the ground, to performing overhead motions above you.
How Rotator Cuff Tears Occur
Rotator cuff tears occur when these tendons’ connections to the shoulder blade tear.2 These injuries typically result in pain and weakness in the arm. The consequent pain and inflammation surrounding the muscles and tendon in the affected is commonly referred to as Rotator Cuff Tendonitis.
Rotator cuff tears are very common among athletes. Often, the cause is overuse of the muscle group. While some injuries occur during sports activities, others happen while doing everyday tasks. For example, lifting heavy objects or working on construction projects puts more stress on the shoulders. People who work in occupations that require repeated overhead movements also run a higher risk of developing shoulder problems.
Rotator cuff tears also frequently affect middle aged men.3 They are most often caused by repetitive motions such as lifting heavy objects or playing sports. These injuries tend to recur if the individual does not take steps to prevent them.
There are two distinct types of rotator cuff injuries: Acute Tears and Degenerative Tears.4
These tears occur most often during activities involving sudden movements of the arms and shoulders. People without athletic training may also suffer cuff tears if they lift heavy objects with sudden jerky motions or experience an impact on an extended arm.
Degenerative tears are more prevalent in older individuals. As bodies age, bones generally become more brittle, and muscles and tendons are at a greater risk of atrophying. These changes gradually degrade the rotator cuff muscle’s attachments to your joints.
In addition, degenerative tears make one more susceptible to acute rotator cuff injuries, especially in those who repeatedly use their upper extremities on a daily basis. While degenerative rotator cuff tears can go for long periods of time without being noticed, a minor injury could suddenly result in increased pain and reduced shoulder function.
Partial Vs Complete Tears
The extent of these tears can be classified into two categories: partial and complete.5
Partial Rotator Cuff Tears
Partial tears involve less than half of the tendon being torn away. They are usually treated with proper physical therapy.
Complete Rotator Cuff Tears
Complete tears involve more than half of the tendon tearing. These tears may require surgery in addition to physical therapy.
What to Do When Recovering from Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
In order to speed up the healing process, you should avoid lifting heavy objects until your shoulder recovers completely. You may also want to limit strenuous activity. Strenuous exercise may increase pain and cause further damage to the affected tendon.6
Ice packs can help relieve some of the pain caused by rotator cuff tendinitis. Ibuprofen or other drugs may reduce your discomfort, though it is best to only use it in case of increased pain.
Avoid lifting or reaching out, overhead, or upward as much as possible while you’re experiencing rotator cuff tendinitis. You should also try to move your shoulder in different directions, but be careful not to lift or reach too high.
Some minor exercises can be beneficial, such as doing stretches and lifting with light weights or resistance bands, but it is best to only partake in those exercises after being consulted by a physical therapist.
Let Kintsugi Help With Your Shoulder Pain
With minor rotator cuff tendon injuries, the shoulder pain should subside a few days after the injury. If the pain does not subside soon, then reach out for physical therapy as soon as you can.
Our physical therapists at Kintsugi Physical Therapy and Wellness are specialized in identifying rotator cuff injuries, underlying causes, and strengthening rotator cuff muscle through our physical therapy programs. Our holistic approach to your recovery will help you recover from your rotator cuff injury, as well as continue to strengthen those muscles to help prevent potential injuries later. If you or someone you love is suffering from shoulder pain, call us at 253-330-8518 to schedule an evaluation.
- Maruvada S, Madrazo-Ibarra A, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Rotator Cuff. [Updated 2021 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441844/
- Rotator Cuff Tears: Symptoms, Repair & Treatment. (2021). Retrieved 21 December 2021, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8291-rotator-cuff-tears-overview
- Tempelhof S, Rupp S, Seil R. Age-related prevalence of rotator cuff tears in asymptomatic shoulders. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 1999 Jul-Aug;8(4):296-9. doi: 10.1016/s1058-2746(99)90148-9. PMID: 10471998.
- Clement, N. D., Nie, Y. X., & McBirnie, J. M. (2012). Management of degenerative rotator cuff tears: a review and treatment strategy. Sports medicine, arthroscopy, rehabilitation, therapy & technology : SMARTT, 4(1), 48. https://doi.org/10.1186/1758-2555-4-48
- Edwards A, Chepeha J, Jones A, Sheps DM, Beaupré L. Can clinical assessment differentiate partial thickness rotator cuff tears from full thickness rotator cuff tears? A secondary analysis. Disabil Rehabil. 2020 Aug;42(16):2351-2358. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2018.1563637. Epub 2019 Feb 8. PMID: 30735064.
- What to do about rotator cuff tendinitis – Harvard Health. (2010). Retrieved 21 December 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/what-to-do-about-rotator-cuff-tendinitis