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Understanding Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is a team of muscles and connecting tendons in the shoulder. It attaches your upper arm to your shoulder blade. Your rotator cuff helps you reach, throw, push, pull, and lift. Without it, your shoulder can't do its job properly.

Cutaway view of shoulder showing rotator cuff, deltoid muscle, humerus, and glenoid

Cutaway view of rotator cuff
Overuse tendonitis is irritation, bruising, or fraying of the rotator cuff.


A healthy rotator cuff

A healthy rotator cuff gives your shoulder flexibility and control. The rotator cuff holds your upper arm bone (humerus) in your shoulder socket (glenoid). It also helps move the shoulder.

A damaged rotator cuff

Pain and weakness told you that something was wrong with your shoulder. Now you know it’s a rotator cuff problem. Rotator cuff tendons can become damaged or inflamed. This is called tendonitis. Possible causes include:

  • Irritation from overuse

  • Bursal inflammation (bursitis)

  • Pinching (impingement)

  • Calcium deposits (calcification)

  • Tears in the tendon.

Getting your shoulder healthy again

Care for your shoulder will most likely begin with nonsurgical treatments. You may start with simple rest. If needed, you may have injections that decrease inflammation and pain. Your healthcare provider will tell you how often you may need these treatments. If rest and injections relieve your pain, you will be given an exercise program. This will help restore your shoulder’s strength and function. If your pain continues, your healthcare provider may suggest surgery to repair the rotator cuff.

Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph, Thomas N., MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Last Review Date: 9/10/2015
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