Torn Rotator Cuff: Causes and How to Treat Pain

woman receiving rotator cuff treatment Feb8th 2022

You may not realize this but shoulders are an essential component of everyday function. Most of us take the pain-free operation of our shoulders for granted. Brushing teeth, driving, and combing hair are made possible due to the function of your rotator cuff. This component of your shoulder supports above-arm mobility commonly used in daily functions and during sports.  

What is a Rotator Cuff?

Three bones connect to make your shoulder: the humerus (upper arm), clavicle (collarbone), and scapula (shoulder blade). This ball and socket joint are kept in place by a collection of tendons and muscles referred to as the rotator cuff. A torn rotator cuff is a common injury that results from overuse of the rotator cuff.

How do you know if you tore your Rotator Cuff?

A torn rotator cuff is a common injury that results from overuse of the rotator cuff. It can be caused by any one of these:

  • Repeatedly lifting heavy weights with your arm in an overhead position
  • A sudden fall on the outstretched hand
  • A blow to the shoulder
  • Repetitive motions in which you lift your arm in front and behind you, such as in tennis and baseball pitching.

Torn Rotator Cuff symptoms include:

  • Pain in the shoulder when lifting or rotating your arm – Pain when you sleep on your shoulder, or when you lie down with your arm hanging off the bed.

When one of the tendons that make your rotator cuff is damaged, tears, or pulled away from the bone, your rotator cuff may fray or become inflamed. This will result in shoulder pain, a weak arm, and limited arm mobility. There are, however, rotator cuff injuries that aren’t painful. 

Tears from a fall or sports injury will likely cause immediate and intense pain. If you have slow tears from overuse, you may only feel pain when you lift your arm over your head. Your doctor will likely perform an MRI, ultrasound, or x-ray to confirm your injury. 

What does a Torn Rotator Cuff feel like?

Most injuries to the rotator cuff happen on the dominant arm, which makes simple functions much more difficult. While some rotator cuff injuries happen during physical activity, others occur due to repetitive movement. 

Industries with the highest rotator cuff injuries include:

  • Athletes (tennis, crew, softball)
  • Carpenters
  • Painters
  • Mechanics

Factors that increase your risk of a torn rotator cuff injury:

  • Poor posture
  • Smoking
  • Over 40
  • Family history 
  • Weak muscles and tendons 
  • Limited blood flow
  • Bone spurs

What are the symptoms of a torn rotator cuff:

  • Severe shoulder ache
  • Popping or clicking sounds when using your arm
  • Intense should pain at night
  • Shoulder weakness
  • Difficulty lifting items without pain

Physical Therapy for Shoulder Pain

Over time, painkillers and steroid injections will wear off, and your pain will return. With the implementation of exercises specific to your injury, qualified physical therapists will help strengthen the muscles that support your shoulder. Physical therapy will restore pain-free movement as well as a range of motion and flexibility.

Early treatment prevents chronic shoulder pain and keeps the tear from worsening. Nearly 80% of patients who opt for nonsurgical treatment experience significant pain relief and better shoulder functionality. If you have a torn rotator cuff, physical therapy can help. 

When performing exercises to increase the mobility of your shoulder, it’s important to strengthen your entire arm—not just your shoulder and surrounding muscles. Your physical therapist will likely test your pain tolerance and mobility before recommending a strength training regimen. 

What stretches help alleviate rotator cuff pain?

  • Side-lying external rotation
  • Pendulum
  • Wall Climbing
  • Doorway stretch
  • High-to-low rows
  • Reverse fly
  • Lawnmower pull

As soon as you’re comfortable, you can add weights or use cans. 

Let OSR Physical Therapy Help Alleviate Pain for a Torn Rotator Cuff

No one likes to be in pain. When you damage or tear your rotator cuff, contact the skilled professionals at OSR Physical Therapy. Our skilled staff will assess your injury and develop a personalized treatment plan.

With eight locations valley-wide, there is sure to be a clinic near you.