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Rotator Cuff Injury

Rotator Cuff Injury Facts

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that help move and stabilize the shoulder joint. Damage to any or all of the four muscles and the ligaments that attach these muscles to bone can occur because of acute injury, chronic overuse, or gradual aging. This damage can cause significant pain and disability with decreased range of motion and use of the shoulder joint.

The shoulder is a ball-socket joint that allows the arm to move in many directions. It is made up of the humeral head (the upper end of the bone of the upper arm) fitting into the glenoid fossa of the scapula (shoulder blade). The humeral head is kept in place by the joint capsule and labrum, thick bands of cartilage that form an elongated cone where the humeral head fits. The rotator cuff muscles are the dynamic stabilizers and movers of the shoulder joint and adjust the position of the humeral head and scapula during shoulder movement.

The four rotator cuff muscles include the

  • supraspinatus,
  • infraspinatus,
  • subscapularis,
  • teres minor.

Other muscles that help move and stabilize the shoulder include the deltoid, teres major, corachobrachialis, latissimus dorsi, and pectoralis major.

When the rotator cuff is damaged, a variety of issues arise:

  • Pain and spasm limit the range of motion of the shoulder.
  • The muscles do not make the small adjustments within the joint to allow the humeral head to move smoothly.
  • Fluid accumulation within the joint due to inflammation limits movement.
  • Arthritis and calcium deposits that form over time limit range of motion.

The severity of injury may range from a mild strain and inflammation of the muscle or tendon, that will lead to no permanent damage, to a partial or complete tear of the muscle that might require surgery for rotator cuff repair.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2016

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Muscle degeneration that occurs with aging is a risk factor for rotator cuff injuries.

Causes of Rotator Cuff Injuries

Most of the time, rotator cuff injuries are caused by repetitive stress on the rotator cuff, or degeneration caused by aging. Such repetitive stress can include injuries sustained from sports, particularly those that require a lot of shoulder movement such as baseball, tennis, swimming, weightlifting, and football.

As we age, reduced blood supply to the rotator cuff tendons means damage does not repair itself as well, and bone spurs (bony overgrowths) can also weaken the tendon and lead to tears.


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Rotator Cuff Injury »

Rotator cuff injuries are a common cause of shoulder pain in people of all age groups.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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