Rotator Cuff Tear

The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons that attach the shoulder blade (scapula) to the upper arm (proximal humerus), allowing you to lift and rotate your arm (for more details about the specific muscles that make up the rotator cuff, please refer to the shoulder anatomy page). When one or more of these tendons is torn, this leads to pain, weakness, and limited range of motion. Depending on the size of the rotator cuff tear, surgical treatment with a shoulder arthroscopy may be the best option for the quickest and best outcome getting you back to a strong, active life.

  • Symptoms

  • Treatment


  • Difficulty lifting due to weakness
  • Decreased shoulder range of motion
  • Pain that is worse at night
  • Pain reaching up or away from the body

Frequently Asked


How do I know if I have a rotator cuff tear?

Patients with a torn rotator cuff frequently have pain that limits their range of motion in addition to weakness with lifting objects out to the side. If a rotator cuff tear is suspected after a detailed history and thorough physical exam, an MRI will likely be ordered. An MRI evaluates soft tissue structures like the rotator cuff tendons.

How do I know if I need surgery or can just manage with conservative treatment?

The size of the rotator cuff tear, the patient’s age, history of trauma, and the patient’s level of function determines whether the initial treatment should be conservative or if it would be better to proceed directly with surgery.

What are the risks associated with not treating my rotator cuff tear?

The most common risks are stiffness, persistent pain, and weakness. Patients with a torn rotator cuff commonly use their injured arm less, which causes the shoulder muscles to weaken. Over time, these muscles can atrophy and the tendon can become irreparable. This can lead to a condition called rotator cuff arthropathy.