A torn rotator cuff tendon is damage to one or more of the four
tendons that cover the shoulder joint. These tendons connect the rotator cuff
muscles to the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder bone (scapula), and
It takes tremendous force to tear a healthy rotator cuff tendon.
This may occur from a direct blow to or overstretching of the tendon. Tears
almost always occur in rotator cuffs that have been inflamed, scarred, or
frayed. These types of tears can develop slowly over time without a known
injury. In less-active older adults, simple movements such as lifting an object
can cause a tear.
Symptoms of a torn tendon include:
Weakness, stiffness, and limited ability or
inability to raise or turn the arm.
A popping sound heard at the
time of the tear.
Pain, especially when the arm is moved against
resistance. Nighttime pain is also common.
Swelling or a bump at
the site of the tear.
Treatment for a torn rotator cuff focuses on relieving pain and
inflammation; restoring shoulder motion, strength, flexibility, and function;
and preventing further injury and loss of strength and movement in the
Treatment for a torn tendon will vary depending on the exact
location and severity of the tear and the person's age and overall health.
Nonsurgical treatment may include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medicines, and
physical therapy. A complete tear usually requires surgery.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD