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Rotator Cuff Tear

Disease Process

The rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles / tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. These tendons hold the upper arm bone (humerus), into the shoulder socket. The four muscles are:

  • Supraspinatus (lifts arm and moves it away from the body).
  • Infraspinatus (lifts arm and turns arm outward).
  • Subscapularis (turns the arm inwards).
  • Teres Minor (helps turn the arm outward).


Rotator Cuff disease is damage to the rotator cuff from any cause. Some common causes are:


Common symptoms found in patients with rotator cuff disease:

  • Shoulder pain that increases gradually, usually on the front and side of the shoulder.
  • Difficulty lifting arm away from the body fully.
  • Complete inability to even hold arm up.


A diagnosis of rotator cuff disease is typically made by:

  • Review of medical history
  • Physical Examination
  • Palpation (feeling the shoulder for pain, swelling)
  • X-rays (may show narrowing of the joint)
  • Arthrogram (x-ray of the joints)
  • MRI

Current Treatment

Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the rotator cuff disease. General treatment guidelines include:

  • Rest and Ice
  • Physical Therapy
  • Surgery

How Can Physical Therapy Help

A physical therapist will evaluate your shoulder symptoms. Goals of physical therapy are to decrease pain and improve function. Actual treatment will vary depending on the severity of the injury, but may include some of the following:

If conservative methods fair and surgery is performed, physical therapy is an important part of the recovery process. Most orthopedic surgeons have specific programs (called protocols) in place that specify exactly how much and what the patient can do each day or week following the surgery. The physical therapist makes sure that these protocols are followed.

Patient Resources

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
Southern California Orthopedic Institute

Disease Process
Physical Therapy
Patient Resources

Megan Hubbard, DPT © 2005   |  disclaimer