Rotator Cuff Injuries



It may be caused by:

  • A blow to the shoulder
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Moving your arms over your head often doing things like swimming, throwing, and tennis
  • Wear and tear from problems like arthritis

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in people aged 40 years and older. Other things that may raise your risk are:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Playing sports where your arms are over your head a lot, such as tennis
  • A shoulder that is not aligned well or does not move as it should



The injury may cause:

  • Pain, often when reaching overhead
  • Pain that makes it hard to sleep
  • Shoulder weakness, especially when lifting the arm
  • Popping or clicking sounds when the shoulder is moved
  • Problems fully moving the shoulder


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the shoulder.

Pictures of the shoulder may be taken with:

  • X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound



The problem is treated based on the level of injury. Options are:

Initial Care

Initial care may be:

  • Rest and an arm sling to help the shoulder heal
  • Ice to ease pain and swelling
  • Over the counter or prescription pain relievers
  • Exercises to make the shoulder stronger and help it to move better

Corticosteroids may be injected into the joint. It can ease pain and swelling quickly, but there are risks and side effects. It cannot be used often. It may only be used to treat pain that is severe or not going away with basic care.


Bones, tendons, and muscles may need to be repaired with surgery. An arthroscopy is done through small incisions. The doctor will be able to see the joint and repair areas as needed. Larger injuries may need open surgery for repair. Recovery will take longer with open surgery.


The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Avoiding repetitive overhead motions.
  • Limiting tasks that use:
    • Extreme outward rotation of shoulder
    • Vibrating tools
  • Avoiding very heavy lifting
  • Exercising often to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.