The rotator cuff is actually composed of a group of muscles that help stabilize the shoulder joint.

These muscles include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor. The tendons associated with these muscles together form the rotator cuff tendon, which is attached to the head of the humerus (top of the upper arm bone). This tendon passes through a space beneath the acromion bone, called the subacromial space.

Rotator cuff injuries can be a result of inflammation (because of impingement or irritation) or a torn tendon. Once we diagnose the specific condition, we can decide on a treatment plan.

In a healthy patient, the rotator cuff muscles control the movements of the arm. Patients with rotator cuff injuries may find it difficult to perform tasks that require a raised arm, such as combing their hair or reaching for an object on a high shelf. These motions may cause a sudden pain. Rotator cuff injuries may also cause the shoulder to ache at night, interfering with sleep.

Diagnose and Treatment of Rotator Cuff Injury

If you have shoulder pain, the doctor will first examine you. He’ll ask you to perform certain movements and to report your pain level, if any. He may also want to see x-ray, MRI or ultrasound images of the shoulder joint. When the cause of the pain has been identified, a treatment plan can be designed for the specific type of injury.

About half of patients will recover with conservative therapy (rest, exercise, pain medication). Surgery is recommended for patients who’ve had symptoms for longer than six months, for those who have a major tear in the rotator cuff, and for those who’ve suffered a major, acute injury (e.g., sports- or accident-related).

Most injuries to the rotator cuff occur as a result of ordinary daily activities and the normal wear-and-tear of aging. In younger people, a rotator cuff injury is usually the result of a fall or an accident.

The prognosis for rotator cuff injury is good if it is diagnosed and treated promptly. Most patients can look forward to a complete recovery. However, a delay in seeking medical help could lead to a syndrome called frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis, in medical terms), or enlargement of a tear. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor in the case of persistent shoulder pain.