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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 cannot do its job.

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

  • Pinching (impingement)

  • Calcium deposits (calcification)

  • Tears in the tendon.

Making your shoulder healthy again

Care for your shoulder will most likely begin with nonsurgical treatments. You may start with simple rest. If needed, you can have pain-soothing injections. Your doctor 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 power. If your pain just won’t quit, your doctor may suggest surgery to repair the rotator cuff.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 7/15/2013
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