What is rotator cuff tear?

Rotator Cuff Tear

Torn rotator cuff tendon

A torn rotator cuff tendon is damage to one or more of the four tendons that cover the shoulder joint. These tendons connect the rotator cuff muscles to the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder bone (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle).

It takes great force to tear a healthy rotator cuff tendon. This may occur from a direct blow to or by stretching the tendon too much. Tears almost always occur in rotator cuffs that have been inflamed, scarred, or frayed. These types of tears can form slowly over time with no known injury. In less-active older adults, simple movements such as lifting an object can cause a tear.

Symptoms of a torn tendon include a popping sound heard at the time of the tear. They also include weakness, stiffness, and difficulty raising or turning your arm. You may also have pain, especially when your arm pushes against something. Pain at night is common.

Treatment for a torn rotator cuff is focused on relieving pain and inflammation, and on getting back shoulder motion, strength, flexibility, and function. It's also focused on preventing more injury and loss of strength and movement in the shoulder.

Treatment for a torn tendon will vary depending on where the tear is and how severe it is. It also depends on the person's age and overall health. Nonsurgical treatment may include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medicines, and physical therapy. A complete tear may require surgery.

Torn rotator cuff

Location of rotator cuff in shoulder, with detail of complete tear of rotator cuff tendon

The rotator cuff is the group of tendons and related muscles that help keep the upper arm bone seated in the socket of the shoulder blade. A torn rotator cuff tendon can cause pain, weakness, and limited range of motion in the shoulder.

A rotator cuff tear may be:

  • Partial, in which only part of the fibers of the tendon are torn.
  • Complete or full thickness, in which the tendon is torn all the way through.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

Specialized emergency services

Find care near you

Comprehensive care

Find an ER near you