Torn Rotator Cuff Symptoms

Torn Rotator Cuff SymptomsI previously discussed the rotator cuff anatomy and the causes of rotator cuff tears.  In this post, I will review the torn rotator cuff symptoms.

First let’s review some rotator cuff basics:

  • The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons deep in the shoulder
  • The tendons attach muscles from the shoulder blade to the top of the arm at the shoulder (Humerus)
  • When the muscles shorten, the tendons pull on the top of the arm and cause it to move
  • The rotator cuff is necessary for normal shoulder motion, strength and function
  • Rotator cuff tears can occur slowly over time as we age or instantly due to an injury
  • One or multiple rotator cuff tendons can tear
  • The tears can rip through either the entire thickness of the tendon or only part way through it
  • The cause of the rotator cuff tear, the type of tear, which tendons are torn and if there are associated injuries can affect the torn rotator cuff symptoms

Now let’s review the common torn rotator cuff symptoms.

Torn Rotator Cuff SymptomsTorn Rotator Cuff Symptoms

Many people who have a tear in their rotator cuff have no symptoms.  In fact it is estimated that 50-60% of people over the age of 60 have a rotator cuff tear and no symptoms. These asymptomatic tears typically occur in older patients and with tears caused by slow wear rather than an acute injury.

Those that are symptomatic usually have some combination of the following shoulder symptoms:

  • Pain. Often on the side of the upper arm or deep in the shoulder.
  • Weakness
  • Sleeping pain
  • Clicking or catching.  Occurs with shoulder motion.

The torn rotator cuff symptoms can be different for those with tears that develop slowly over time versus those who have tears that develop rapidly from trauma .

Torn Rotator Cuff Symptoms – Slow Developing Tears

The development of symptoms in these people often has one of two patterns:

  1. Slow Symptom Onset. There is a very slow progression of symptoms over months or years.  The symptoms in these people are often not as severe. They will frequently have pain with activity and while sleeping.  Occasionally they will have clicking or catching.  Often their strength can be normal or only mildly impaired.
  2. Rapid Symptom Onset. They may go years without symptoms, often not even aware that they have a tear.  Suddenly significant pain and weakness can develop.  The symptoms can begin either without any apparent cause or after an obvious injury.  These people often have similar symptoms to those described below having an acute traumatic cause to their tear. Due to considerable weakness and pain, they usually will have poorly functioning shoulders and can be unable to even lift their arm.  Constant pain that may even worsen at night is common.

Torn Rotator Cuff Symptoms – Rapid Developing Tears

These tears occur in previously normal shoulders.  They develop as a result of a traumatic injury.  The symptoms usually become significant rather quickly, either at the time of the injury or shortly thereafter.  There is often considerable pain and weakness.  Attempts at raising the arm frequently increase the pain.  Lowering the arm from a raised position can be even more painful, as is sleeping. Outward signs of bruising, swelling or deformity of the shoulder are rare and usually mean that there are other associated injuries.

If you have any of these symptoms, an Orthopaedic Sports Medicine doctor can help. :-)  Delay in treatment, can affect outcome. So if you suffer from these symptoms, it is a good idea to get your shoulder evaluated.




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