Symptoms and Signs of Rotator Cuff Injury

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 7/15/2022

Doctor's Notes on Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. The tendons connect to four muscles that move the shoulder in various directions: 

  1. subscapularis muscle, 
  2. supraspinatus muscle, 
  3. infraspinatus muscle, and 
  4. teres minor muscle. 

An injury to the rotator cuff is a very common cause of shoulder pain and can be caused by an acute injury or repetitive strain. There may be partial or complete tearing of the tendons.

Symptoms and signs of rotator cuff injury include pain in the shoulder and upper arm that can be severe. The pain may be felt at night or when moving the arm in certain ways. 

  • If the injury is due to repeated small traumas over time, the pain may start as mild and may worsen over time. 
  • If the injury is sudden (acute) the pain may come on suddenly and be intense. 

Associated symptoms may include a cracking sound when moving the shoulder.

What Is the Treatment for Rotator Cuff Injury?

Treatment for rotator cuff injury depends on its severity and may include the following:

  • Rest
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Physical therapy, including strengthening and stretching exercises
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery to repair the torn rotator cuff tendons

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.