What are rotator cuff injuries?

Updated: Oct 25, 2018
  • Author: Gerard A Malanga, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
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Answer

Rotator cuff injuries are a common cause of shoulder pain in people of all age groups. They represent a spectrum of disease, ranging from acute reversible tendinitis to massive tears involving the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and subscapularis. Diagnosis is usually made through detailed history, physical examination, and often, imaging studies. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

A normal rotator cuff and rotator cuff tear are shown below.

Rotator cuff, normal anatomy. Rotator cuff, normal anatomy.
Rotator cuff tear, anterior view. Rotator cuff tear, anterior view.

Often, younger individuals with rotator cuff injuries relate a history of repetitive overhead activities involving the rotator cuff or, less commonly, a history of trauma preceding clinical onset of symptoms. In contrast, older individuals usually present with a gradual onset of shoulder pain and, ultimately, after radiographic testing is shown to have significant partial or full rotator cuff tears without a clear history of predisposing trauma. Nonoperative or conservative treatment is usually sufficient to heal the problem in the vast majority of individuals, with a few exceptions that are discussed. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

For excellent patient education resources, see eMedicineHealth's patient education articles Rotator Cuff Injury and Shoulder and Neck Pain.


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