Rotator cuff tear

What is a rotator cuff tear?

The rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that cover the top of your upper arm bone and keep the arm connected to the shoulder socket. If the tendons in the rotator cuff are swollen or weak, they may begin to tear. This can also lead to tears in the muscles.


When you have tears in your rotator cuff, you may feel:

  • Pain at the top and outer side of your shoulder, especially when your arm is raised over your head or you reach for something
  • Weakness when you lift your arm to stick it straight out
  • Clicking or popping when you move your shoulder

Causes and risk factors

Tears in your rotator cuff may be caused by:

  • Overuse during sports or while doing work that requires you to raise your arms over your head or do heavy lifting
  • Trauma from a fall or a sudden blow to your shoulder
  • Aging, which causes the muscles and tendons in your shoulder get weaker

Treatment options

Treatment for a torn rotator cuff often includes:

  • Rest
  • Application of heat or ice
  • Medication to reduce swelling and pain
  • Exercises to make your shoulder flexible and strong again

If your rotator cuff tear is especially severe, your doctor may recommend surgery.

If you are younger or participate in sports, your doctor may suggest surgery to make sure that the tear heals properly and is less likely to get injured again.

Last reviewed: 
October 2019

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