Is Your Shoulder Pain Coming From the Rotator Cuff?


Have you ever felt a twinge in your shoulder when lifting something, or do you suffer from an aching shoulder at the end of the day? This could be a sign that your rotator cuff is weak and irritated. Various studies* show that 20% of people with shoulder pain after age 32 have a rotator cuff tear. This jumps up to 30% after age 40 and 80% after age 60.


The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that surround the glenohumeral joint in the shoulder. The primary job of these muscles is to guide the direction of the shoulder joint while the bigger muscles such as the trapezius, latissimus dorsi and pectoralis are responsible for the heavy lifting.


What happens when the rotator cuff is weak?

Since your rotator cuff is designed to guide the shoulder joint, when certain rotator cuff muscles are weak or injured, poor alignment occurs. This results in the ball end of the humerus jamming into the socket of your shoulder blade. Over time, this causes inflammation and weakness. Your arm may feel weak while lifting objects over your head or it may be painful to do repetitive activities such as scrubbing, driving or working on a computer.


How does a rotator cuff tear happen?

There are various degrees of rotator cuff tears and many people have them without many symptoms. Rotator cuff tears are usually partial tears, but can become full tears if you fall onto your arm or lift a heavy object over your head. Small tears usually occur from poor shoulder posture or from heavy lifting over a period of time. These small partial tears are similar to the analogy of a rope fraying over time: one day the rope will snap.


What can be done to help shoulder pain from a rotator cuff?

  • See a Physical Therapist first. We we know how to test for a rotator cuff tear and we know how to address the root cause of the problem, so that we can alleviate your pain and restore function to your shoulder. MRI’s and other tests should be done only after an exam, or if your doctor determines a need for one.
  • Use ice to alleviate the swelling in your shoulder. Use an icepack for 10 minutes on your shoulder with a towel wrapped around it so it does not hurt your skin. Do this 2-3 times a day.
  • Practice good posture. Make sure you are standing or sitting tall. This will help your shoulder fall into a better position. Our Physical Therapists can also show you specific posture exercises to restore your posture.
  • Gently exercise. Swinging your arm in a gentle circle, while dangling down is soothing for the shoulder. However, be careful when exercising the shoulder and see your Physical Therapist for the correct exercises to perform, based off of your condition.


What if my pain continues?

It is important that you don’t let shoulder pain go on more than a week. You should see a Physical Therapist to determine what is causing your pain and determine if you have a tear. It is possible that you may need an additional follow up with a physician for cortisone injections or medication. However, most cases of rotator cuff injuries or shoulder pain can be easily treated with Physical Therapy. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to repair the torn rotator cuff.


You don’t have to live with shoulder pain and since rotator cuff tears become more common as we get older, it is important that you have the right professional examine your shoulder. Trust our Physical Therapy experts to evaluate your problem thoroughly and put you on the right treatment plan to a pain free shoulder. Call PROCare Physical Therapy today to speak with one of our Physical Therapists about your shoulder pain and return to the activities that you love to do.