What Are the Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear?

What Are the Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear?

What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

A tear in the rotator cuff is essentially when a rip occurs in the group of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that stabilize your shoulder joint.

Rotator cuff tears typically occur through a traumatic injury to the shoulder such as through a fall, but also commonly occur through repetitive overhead activities, sustained stints of heavy lifting, and progressive wear and tear, all of which irritate and damage the tendons and ligaments in the rotator cuff, which can lead to a rotator cuff injury or tear.

Rotator Cuff Tear

Types of Rotator Cuff Tears

There are several types of rotator cuff tears, which are all dependent on how the tear occurred as well as the extent of the injury.

Partial Rotator Cuff Tear

With a partial tear, the tendons of the rotator cuff are damaged and may be partly detached from the bone, but the tendon is not completely severed and detached.

Complete Rotator Cuff Tear

This type of tear is where the soft tissue (tendons and ligaments) is completely severed into two distinct pieces. Most commonly, complete rotator cuff tears involve the tendons in the shoulder joint tearing away from their attachment to the upper arm bone.

Acute Tear

These types of rotator cuff injuries are the result of trauma or an injury, for example, from a fall or from lifting something heavy with incorrect form and too quickly, which strains the tendons past their maximum point, resulting in a tear.

Degenerative Tear

These types of rotator cuff tears occur as a result of the wearing down of the tendons and ligaments over time. This can occur through overuse or repetitive actions. Degenerative tears can also be exacerbated by conditions such as high cholesterol and diabetes.


Degenerative tears are also more likely to occur as we age, and so older individuals are more at risk for this type of rotator cuff tear.

What Causes a Rotator Cuff Tear?

As we have mentioned, your rotator cuff can be torn either by traumatic injury, or through gradual degeneration through repetitive actions or aging.


There are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a rotator cuff injury. It is important to remain aware of these risk factors so as to try to prevent degeneration of the tendons and ligaments in the rotator cuff which may eventually result in an injury.

Sports Activities

Certain sporting activities can aggravate the tendons and ligaments in your rotator cuff, and result in a tear. Sports such as weightlifting, rowing, tennis, and baseball place stress on your rotator cuff and can result in a tear.

Occupational Strain

Certain occupations that make use of your rotator cuff can cause you to be at a higher risk for a rotator cuff tear. Jobs such as painters (especially house painters), construction work, and other jobs that require shoulder strength can heighten your risk for a rotator cuff tear.

Genetics and Family History

Orthopedic professionals are noticing that rotator cuff tears seem to have a genetic component, and tend to run in certain families more than others. If you have a family history of rotator cuff injuries, you may be at more risk.

Bone Spurs

When an overgrowth of the bone in the shoulder occurs, which is common in people as they get older, the bone overgrowth may aggravate the tendons and ligaments in the shoulder joint, heightening the risk of a rotator cuff tear.

Lack of Blood Supply

As we age, our rotator cuff gets less blood supply. This means that it is harder to heal small tears in the rotator cuff area, and because the healing process is prolonged, this can lead to larger tears and an even longer recovery time.

What Are the Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Keeping in mind the risk factors and causes of rotator cuff tears, it is important to be aware of the symptoms you are experiencing if you suspect a rotator cuff tear.

Some symptoms of a rotator cuff tear are as follows:

  • Your range of motion is limited in your shoulder, and it cannot move how it usually does.
  • Having a hard time lifting things up compared to how you usually would.
  • Experiencing pain when you move your arm in a specific way, or when it is in a still position for some time.
  • Having a hard time raising your arm overhead.
  • Feeling weakness in your shoulder.
  • Hearing a clicking sound when your arm and shoulder movement.

How is a Rotator Cuff Tear Diagnosed?

If you suspect a rotator cuff injury, your orthopedic physician will look into the history of the injury, and physically examine your shoulder area, testing your range of motion and mobility, as well as the strength of the muscles around your rotator cuff.

Your doctor may also use imaging techniques to ascertain how severe your rotator cuff tear is, such as the following:

  • Ultrasound, allows the doctor to examine the soft tissues such as your muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the shoulder.
  • MRI, which takes detailed pictures using a very strong magnet, usually to ascertain the extent of the rotator cuff injury.
  • X-rays, usually to see if the bones are misaligned, and to ascertain whether the head of your upper arm is pushing into the rotator cuff space instead of the socket joint of your shoulder.

Let OPA Ortho Help You Get Well Again

If you suspect that you have rotator cuff tear symptoms, it is important to get the problem seen to right away before it progresses to a more serious injury.

At OPA Ortho, we are committed to connecting you with an orthopedic professional that can get you back to your full function and living your most mobile and healthy life.

OPA Ortho offers helpful patient resources and connects patients with board-certified and experienced orthopedic professionals that are able to cater to every patient’s distinctive requirements. OPA Ortho also ensures that you are linked with an orthopedic professional that is close to you and easy to access.

Request an appointment today or call us for all your orthopedic questions and concerns. OPA can help with the best way forward from an injury, and get you back on track to living your life in the most pain-free comfortable way possible.