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Rotator Cuff Tear

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Last updated June 11, 2022

Rotator cuff tear quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your rotator cuff tear.

Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • You can often treat a rotator cuff tear at home with rest, ice, and ibuprofen.
  • Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises can help with shoulder mobility.
See home treatments

When you may need a provider

  • Your shoulder pain and weakness get worse.
  • You have numbness or weakness in the arm, hand, or wrist.
  • Your symptoms do not improve after 6–8 weeks of home treatment.
See care providers

Emergency Care

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Go to the ER if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Severe shoulder pain
  • Sudden inability to move the shoulder or arm with numbness
  • Pain, redness, fever, and severe pain in the shoulder

Rotator cuff tear quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your rotator cuff tear.

Take rotator cuff tear quiz

What is a rotator cuff tear?

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that attach the bone to the shoulder blade, allowing you to lift and twist your arm. A rotator cuff injury tear can cause a dull ache in the shoulder, which often worsens when sleeping.

The rotator cuff is a common site of shoulder injuries, and a tear is one of the most common injuries—along with strains, tendinitis, and bursitis. Tears can happen gradually when the tendons that connect muscles to bones overstretch and then tear in part or entirely.

There are many reasons that this can happen, including repetitive stress from repeating the same motion, a lack of blood supply, and bone overgrowth from age. The rotator cuff can also tear after a fall, a car accident, or from a sudden injury.

The pain from sudden tears is usually instant and more intense than from gradual tears.

Rotator cuff pain is caused by a tearing of the supraspinatus muscle, which lies on top of the shoulder. Its tendon moves under the bone on the outside of the shoulder (the acromion). This tendon is one of the most frequently torn because of its location between the bones.

When the tendon tears, it becomes sore and swollen and can then get stuck between the shoulder bones. It can also damage the sac of fluid that cushions the tendon.

A rotator cuff tear can weaken the shoulder and make daily activities very painful.


Typically, the pain is located in the front or on the outside of the shoulder. It is usually worse when you raise your arm or lift something above your head. The pain can be very severe and make it hard to do even simple tasks. Rotator cuff tears are usually very painful at night because lying down stretches many of the muscles in this area and the mattress can press against the area.

Signs of a rotator cuff tear include:

Rotator cuff tear quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your rotator cuff tear.

Take rotator cuff tear quiz


Your doctor may do a rotator cuff injury test or a drop arm test.

A rotator cuff tear needs to be treated or it will get worse. While treatments for rotator cuff tears vary depending on the severity of the tear, it usually includes rest, over-the-counter pain medication, strengthening exercises, and stretching. Steroid injections can help with pain and physical therapy with recovery. If symptoms last more than six months, surgery may be recommended.

Ready to treat your rotator cuff tear?

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The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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