How do I know if I have torn my rotator cuff?

How do I know if I have torn my rotator cuff?

This can be a nagging and annoying injury that if left untreated can go on for months. You don’t need to be playing sports to suffer a rotator cuff injury, it can happen over time with wear and tear. We see many clients with rotator cuff strains and tears, let me explain the difference and what you can do to begin helping yourself at home.

What is the rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is a group of four small muscles in the shoulder that give stability to the ball and socket joint. It is therefore a great joint as it can move in almost any direction, but with that it is also vulnerable to strains and sprains due to its flexibility. The muscles are called:

  • Infraspinatus
  • Supraspinatus
  • Subscapularis
  • Teres Minor

What does a rotator cuff tear feel like?

If it is completely torn then you won’t be able to move your shoulder too well, some movements will be severely limited, like putting your coat on or brushing your hair. The rotator cuff lifts the shoulder and turns the arm in and out. Depending on which one is injured you will notice it more. You may also not notice too much of an issue as the other rotator cuffs can substitute for the lack of strength in that muscle. The best way to diagnose them is with an ultrasound or MRI, but most can be diagnosed with a good physical examination by a specialist.

Our sports therapists here are exceptional with rotator cuffs and within 10 minutes can form a diagnosis on the severity.

Tear generally happen as wear tear and can be because of years of degeneration in the shoulders. However, they can also happen in younger people that play sports and have had injuries. Tennis, cricket, baseball are all shoulder-based sports, and the players are prone to rotator cuff injuries.

People with a rotator cuff tear will not be able to lie on the affected shoulder when they sleep, this is often a giveaway.


Can I live with a rotator cuff tear and not have surgery?

If you are a high-performance athlete that uses your shoulder under heavy load each day then the answer is NO. You will need surgery.

If you have a complete rupture of the tendon then it is more likely that you will need surgery to reattach the tendon back to the shoulder.

If it is a grade 1 or 2 tear you need to think of it like a small hole in a t-shirt, the t-shirt still works, and it has tension when you pull it. This is more of a case for rehabilitation.

What is the best treatment for rotator cuff injury?

If you don’t need surgery, then I would start with some gentle rehabilitation exercises at home:

  1. Strengthen the shoulder blades-doing push up plus movements or scapula retractions will help to draw the shoulders and the blades back into a good position to take pressure off the shoulder joint. This allows the rotator cuff to heal and builds strength in the muscles around the joint. Watch here
  2. Banded movements-using a TheraBand will help to ‘floss’ the shoulder joint, just be careful going overhead with these ones, keep your elbow close to your side and go slowly. Watch here
  3. Foam roller or lacrosse ball-using a lacrosse ball up against a wall is a great way to take release the tendon, it can be tender so be gentle on yourself with this one. You can watch it here

If you would like some advice on shoulder pain or if you think you have a rotator cuff tear then please book a complimentary consultation with us by clicking the link below.


Book a consultation with a Chiropractor here

If you do know someone who wants more advice, please send them our details. You can send them this assessment as well to diagnose their back pain. It is a great tool to understand where your back pain is coming from, it is free and takes 60 seconds. Click here for assessment

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