Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and four separate tendons that surround the shoulder joint. A rotator cuff injury can be caused by a direct blow to the shoulder; falling on an outstretched arm; repetitive overhead motion of the arm, as in swimming, baseball (pitching), or tennis; or chronic degenerative wear and tear on the tendons.

Risk factors for a rotator cuff injury include participating in sports that stress repetitive overhead arm motion (swimming, baseball, and tennis); age (more prevalent in those 40 or older); heavy lifting; and weakened shoulder muscles due to inactivity.

Symptoms include recurrent pain, especially during overhead motion; shoulder muscle weakness when lifting the arm; popping or clicking sounds when the shoulder moves; and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint.


A doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical exam in which you will be asked to move your shoulder. Tests may include x-rays; an MRI test, which uses magnetism and radio waves to create pictures of the inside of the shoulder; or an ultrasound test, which uses sound waves to examine the rotator cuff for inflammation or tears.

Treatment also may include rest and immobilization; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain; ice applied to the shoulder area for 15 minutes, three to four times a day; and physical therapy.


To reduce your chances of a rotator cuff injury, avoid heavy lifting and repetitive arm motion, and exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint.

Content on this page is for informational purposes only. If injured, please consult a physician.

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