Rotator Cuff Tear


A rotator cuff tear results when one or all of the rotator cuff muscles or tendons become frayed or completely severed. Rotator cuff tears are most common in people older than the age of 40. When younger people develop rotator cuff tears, it is usually the result of acute trauma or overhead movement during work or sports activities.


Causes of rotator cuff tears include repetitive overhead activities, direct trauma from falling on to the shoulder and the lifting of heavy objects.

The injury is also common among people whose jobs or hobbies place heavy demands on their shoulders. Poor posture, especially forward shoulders, can also contribute to rotator cuff injury.


Signs and symptoms of rotator cuff tears include:

  • Recurrent, constant pain, particularly with overhead activities
  • Pain at night that prevents you from sleeping on the injured side
  • Muscle weakness, especially when attempting to lift the arm
  • Catching or cracking sounds when the arm is moved
  • Limited shoulder motion

Your physical therapist can perform shoulder special tests to determine if you have a rotator cuff tear.


Treatment of rotator cuff tears include conservative measures, such as physical therapy to strengthen the muscles. Occasionally, the tear is too extensive and surgical intervention is necessary.

Edited by Brett Sears, PT.

Kier J. Ecklund, MD, Thay Q. Lee, PhD. “Rotator Cuff Tear Arthropathy” Journal of the American Society of Orthopedic Surgeons Vol 15, No 6, June 2007, 340-349.

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