I have shoulder pain. I think it's my rotator cuff. | Total Performance Physical Therapy

I have shoulder pain. I think it’s my rotator cuff.

December 26, 2012

What is the Rotator Cuff?

The rotator cuff is the name given to a group of 4 small muscles that are responsible for connecting the upper arm bone (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula) as well as adding stability and creating movement at the shoulder joint.

This is a picture of a rotator cuff tear.

What Causes a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Injury to the rotator cuff muscles can happen due to trauma (like a fall or lifting a heavy object), repetitive activities using the arms above shoulder height (such as many overhead sports like volley ball), and the natural breakdown of tissue due to the aging process.  These processes cause the muscles/tendons of the rotator cuff to become inflamed.  Eventually if untreated, a tear to one of the muscles/tendons can occur.  There are 2 types of tears that can occur to the muscles of the rotator cuff.  A partial thickness tear is one that affects only some portion of any of the rotator cuff muscles/tendons, but does not completely extend all the way through the tissue.  A full thickness tear is one that extends from the top to the bottom of any of the rotator cuff muscles/tendons.

To determine tests you can do at home to determine if you have a rotator cuff tear, click here to claim your copy of Shoulder Pain Solutions Book. 

What are some signs/symptoms?

Rotator cuff tears can present in a few different ways:


When you first start to notice pain in your shoulder it is recommended that you rest and try to avoid the motions that cause you pain.  Ice can be used to help decrease pain and inflammation around the shoulder joint.  However, if you ever feel pain in the shoulder that lasts longer than 1-2 weeks, it is recommended that you make an appointment to see your physical therapist.  It is important to know that the sooner you address the problem the better the outcome will be.  With a comprehensive examination/evaluation and the use of special tests which are used to put stress on the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff, a diagnosis can be made as to which muscle(s) are affected and are causing the onset of symptoms.  In some cases, some special tests may warrant a referral to a specialist for image testing like an MRI or CT scan if a full thickness tear is suspected.

To determine specific tests and different causes of your shoulder pain, click here to claim your copy of the Shoulder Pain Solutions Book.  

Once a diagnosis is made, the physical therapist will design a personalized program of modalities such as ice to control inflammation, as well as an exercise program to help strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff.  The exercise program will also help improve muscular endurance and flexibility to help increase the range of motion at the shoulder joint.  Additional manual therapy techniques may be utilized such as joint mobilizations and superficial/deep tissue massage techniques to help decrease pain, remove trigger points, and increase the range of motion of the shoulder joint.  In cases of severe tears, surgery may be needed to completely heal the damaged tissue.  In this case physical therapy will be completed after the surgery to help improve strength and range of motion at the joint.  If surgery is not completed, the physical therapist can help you modify activities to improve shoulder movement.

If you don’t have access to a physical therapist or want to start determining right this minute what is causing your shoulder pain, click here to claim your copy of the Shoulder Pain Solutions Book.  

The healing process for a rotator cuff tear is not short by any means.  Generally patients start to feel the effects of therapy after about 2 weeks.   However, it takes a full 12 weeks of treatment 2-3 times per week in order to have any lasting effects.  Re-injury is common in individuals who have had problems with their rotator cuff.  It is important to continue to see a physical therapist routinely to continue to progress and strengthen the shoulder to prevent another injury from occurring.

Schedule your appointment at Total Performance Physical Therapy today!


If you or someone you know is suffering with shoulder pain and wants a FREE consultation with a Doctor of Physical Therapy, click here, enter your information and we will be in touch!


  1. Lansdown DA, Feeley BT.  Evaluation and Treatment of Rotator Cuff Tears.  The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 2012;40(2):73-86.