4 Signs of a Rotator Cuff Tear

Mar 15, 2024
4 Signs of a Rotator Cuff Tear
You might have once thought that a shoulder problem was no big deal — until you started dealing with one. A shoulder injury like a rotator cuff tear can cast a wide net, so you want to get to the bottom of the issue.

Taking off a shirt (or putting one on), driving, reaching for some cereal in your cupboard — these are all simple tasks that become much, much harder when you have a shoulder problem like a rotator cuff tear.

Each year in the United States, close to 2 million people seek medical help for a rotator cuff tear, which is one of the most common tendon injuries

So if you’re dealing with shoulder pain and you want to figure out whether it involves your rotator cuff, our team of joint experts here at Revive Spine & Pain Center pulled together a few rules of thumb.

First, a quick review of shoulder anatomy 

When investigating joint pain, it’s important to have a grasp of the anatomy in question, so let’s quickly review your shoulders. 

Your shoulders are ball-and-socket joints that join your arms to your torso. If you swing your arms around, you’ll realize that they enjoy a very wide range of motion, which is due to shallow sockets and strong connective tissues. 

The most important group of tissues is your rotator cuff, which keeps your upper arm bone (humerus) in the socket. Your rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that come together to form a tendon that covers the end of your upper arm bone.

Recognizing a rotator cuff tear

We’re calling this shoulder injury a rotator cuff tear because that’s what commonly occurs in these tissues — either partially or completely. Rotator cuff tears often develop over time, but they can develop as a result of an acute injury.

No matter how the tissue was damaged, signs of a rotator cuff tear include:

Shoulder pain

This first symptom is hard to ignore. With a rotator cuff tear, you can experience pain in your shoulder when you lift or rotate your arm.

Pain at night or at rest

Another hallmark of a rotator cuff tear is pain when you sleep at night, especially if you sleep on the affected side. And the pain can also crop up when your shoulder is at rest, such as when you sleep or while you're reading or watching TV. This is due to inflammation setting in.

Shoulder weakness

If there’s a significant tear or complete rupture of your rotator cuff, you might encounter weakness in your shoulder. For example, you might struggle to lift something heavy.

Popping or crackling in your shoulder

With rotator cuff tears, you might hear or feel popping or cracking inside your shoulder when you move it around.

Why treatment for a rotator cuff injury is important

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it’s time to come see us. (Even if they don't ring a bell but you’re definitely dealing with a shoulder issue, it’s a good idea to pay us a visit.)

Rotator cuff injuries do not heal on their own, and even worse, an untreated tear can place you at greater risk for injuring the rotator cuff on the opposite side.

The good news is that 8 out of 10 people get better after partial rotator cuff tears without surgery. Even if we find that there's a tear, we offer plenty of nonsurgical treatments that will help restore function and reduce pain in your shoulder. These treatments include:

  • Rest
  • Activity modification
  • Immobilization with a sling
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Platelet-rich plasma therapy
  • Acupuncture

To figure out which combination of treatments will work best for your shoulder, we invite you to make an appointment at one of our three New Jersey locations in Marlton, Hamilton Township, or East Brunswick.