5 Telltale Signs of a Rotator Cuff Injury

5 Telltale Signs of a Rotator Cuff Injury

When you have pain lifting or rotating your arm, you know something is wrong with your shoulder. The pain could be an injury to the rotator cuff — a collection of four muscles over the head of the upper arm bone. 

Your rotator cuff makes it so you can lift and rotate your arm, and it stabilizes the ball of the shoulder within the joint. 

Rotator cuff injuries are common, and more than 2 million Americans have some kind of problem with the rotator cuff each year. At Silicon Valley Orthopaedics in Fremont, California, Nic Gay, MD, Masi Reynolds, DO, and April Mancuso, MD, often diagnose and treat rotator cuff injuries. Here are the telltale signs that usually mean your shoulder pain is due to a rotator cuff injury.

Types of rotator cuff injuries

The structure of the rotator cuff is one of the reasons your shoulder is so mobile. However, that means the rotator cuff is also vulnerable to injury. Common problems with the rotator cuff include:


This is a type of inflammation that occurs in the fluid-filled cushions (bursae) between your bone and your rotator cuff. These bursae soften movements at your joint, but if they’re irritated, you experience pain. 


Tendonitis describes inflammation of the tendons — connective tissue that connects muscle to bone. When you overuse the rotator cuff in daily life, like playing tennis or reaching your arm over your head to paint, you can irritate the tendons. 


When the tendons that attach the muscles of the rotator cuff to the bone rip, you have a rotator cuff tear. Tears may be partial, in which the tendon is attached to the arm bone, or complete, in which the tendon separates completely from the bone. 

Signs that you have a rotator cuff injury

Anyone can develop a rotator cuff injury, but your risk increases with age. The injury usually affects your dominant side. Here are five signs to watch for:

1. Pain with certain movements

Recurrent pain in the top part of your arm or shoulder is a telltale sign of rotator cuff injury. You may feel the pain most intensely when you lift your arm, lower it to the front or side, or reach behind your back. 

2. Weakness

If you lose strength in the arm associated with the affected shoulder, it may be due to a rotator cuff injury. You may struggle to lift items and use your arm.

3. Sounds

Popping or clicking sounds or sensations when you move your arm may indicate a rotator cuff problem. 

4. Poor response to pain relievers

At first, over-the-counter pain relievers may be enough to ease the pain associated with your rotator cuff injury. But, over time, the pain relievers stop working, and the pain persists. 

5. Pain that worsens at night or with rest

Rotator cuff injuries cause pain that often feels worse at night, especially if you lay on the affected side. The intensity of rotator cuff pain also increases with rest.

If you have shoulder pain or weakness that makes it difficult to complete daily activities, reach out to Silicon Valley Orthopaedics today for an evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment plan. Call today or use this website to schedule your visit.

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