Rotator Cuff Tears

By Mai Vu – Physical Therapist 

Most of us have heard the term “rotator cuff.” However, many people don’t actually know what that means. The term “rotator cuff” refers to a group of 4 muscles that connect the shoulder blade (scapula) to the arm bone (humerus). These four muscles are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. Problems start to occur when there is inflammation present in the tendons. Many times the inflammation is caused by biomechanical problems that occur in the shoulder girdle complex. If these biomechanical problems persist, fraying and tearing of the tendon can occur. The supraspinatus muscle is the muscle that is most commonly affected, but fraying and tears can also occur in the rest of the rotator cuff muscles. Of course, tears can also occur due to a traumatic incident, such as a fall.

Risk Factors

  • Over 40 years of age
  • Impingement Syndrome
  • Poor Posture
  • Muscle/Joint Tightness
  • Repetitive Overhead Activities

The above risk factors increase the chances that a tear will develop.


  • Pain in the shoulder and/or upper arm
  • Pain and/or weakness when trying to lift the arm
  • Pain and/or weakness when trying to reach
  • Pain lying on the injured shoulder


Modalities such as ice and heat can help to relieve pain symptoms. Physical therapy will address the biomechanical problems that led to the development of a tear, such as muscle imbalances and poor posture. Physical therapy may reduce the symptoms so that the patient may not need surgery.

If you think you may have injured your rotator cuff, you should be evaluated by a health care professional to determine if you need treatment.

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