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Torn Rotator Cuff Tendon

A torn rotator cuff tendon is damage to one or more of the four tendons that cover the shoulder joint. These tendons connect the rotator cuff muscles to the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder bone (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle).

It takes tremendous force to tear a healthy rotator cuff tendon. This may occur from a direct blow to or overstretching of the tendon. Tears almost always occur in rotator cuffs that have been inflamed, scarred, or frayed. These types of tears can develop slowly over time without a known injury. In less-active older adults, simple movements such as lifting an object can cause a tear.

Symptoms of a torn tendon include:

  • Weakness, stiffness, and limited ability or inability to raise or turn the arm.
  • A popping sound heard at the time of the tear.
  • Pain, especially when the arm is moved against resistance. Nighttime pain is also common.
  • Swelling or a bump at the site of the tear.

Treatment for a torn rotator cuff focuses on relieving pain and inflammation; restoring shoulder motion, strength, flexibility, and function; and preventing further injury and loss of strength and movement in the shoulder.

Treatment for a torn tendon will vary depending on the exact location and severity of the tear and the person's age and overall health. Nonsurgical treatment may include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medicines, and physical therapy. A complete tear usually requires surgery.

Last Revised: May 16, 2013

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD

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