Your rotator cuff helps move your shoulder, which is the joint with the greatest range of motion in the body. It is made of tendons and muscles that connect your upper arm bone to your shoulder blade and keeps that arm bone securely centered in your shoulder socket.

If you injure your rotator cuff, you may experience pain and weakness. These symptoms often make many everyday activities hard to manage.

Risk Factors

There are many causes of rotator cuff injury, and they include:

  • Repetitive motion: If you use your shoulder over and over, this can put stress on your muscles and lead to tears. Examples of repetitive motion include playing certain sports such as golf, tennis, and baseball, and performing specific job duties, especially for construction workers and painters.
  • Wear and tear: As we get older, everyday use can cause muscles and tendons to break down and be more prone to injury. You can also develop bone spurs near the rotator cuff, as well as calcium deposits, which can irritate the joint.
  • Accidents: Your rotator cuff can be injured if you fall on your arm and tear a tendon or muscle.
  • Moving heavy objects: You can cause injury to your rotator cuff by pulling a heavy object or trying to lift it overhead. When you must move something heavy, be sure to use your leg muscles and take the pressure off your arms and back.
  • Having bad posture: If you slouch or have your shoulders too far forward, your muscles can become inflamed, leading to injury when you throw or lift something. It is important to sit and walk with your shoulders back and relaxed. Shoulder-strengthening exercises are also beneficial.


If you have persistent pain in your shoulder, it is critical that you be evaluated by a physician. An orthopedist can perform a physical examination and review your shoulder joint through X-rays, an MRI, or an ultrasound.

Once the severity of your injury is determined, there are a number of treatments available:

  • Physical therapy: By working with a physical therapist, you can learn a series of exercises that will help strengthen your muscles, increase flexibility, and improve your range of motion.
  • Medication: Your physician may recommend either prescription or over-the-counter medications to ease the pain you are experiencing. You may also benefit from steroid injections at the site of the injury.
  • Surgery: In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery. Procedures are available to repair the tear or to remove a bone spur or calcium deposits. If your joint issue is compounded by arthritis, you may require partial or total joint replacement. Another possibility is reverse shoulder replacement, a surgery that involves replacing your shoulder joint with a reverse ball-and-socket prosthesis. Your orthopedist can discuss the options and help you determine what is right for you.

Dr. Thomas Hansen, an orthopedic surgeon at North Hills Hospital, explains, “Rotator cuff problems are extremely common and painful, comprising a large portion of my practice. Fortunately, most of these patients respond well to treatment. Many can be successfully treated without surgery, but for those who need an operation, the outcome is generally quite good. The surgery can usually be performed as an outpatient, through a few small, half-inch incisions with an arthroscope, which minimizes scarring and pain after surgery. The pain relief and increase in function are often dramatic and typically last over time.”

To learn more about shoulder pain and treatment, visit the North Hills Orthopedic Surgery Center online.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

National Institutes of Health

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