Rotator Cuff Problems

The rotator cuff refers to a group of muscles and tendons that keep the head of the humerus in place in the shoulder socket. It is also responsible for stability and mobility of the shoulder, allowing you to lift and rotate your arms.

Common Causes of Rotator Cuff Problems

The rotator cuff is susceptible to overuse or traumatic injury, with the most common problems being tears and tendinopathy.

Rotator cuff tendinopathy causes irritation to the tendons and muscles around the shoulder joint. This usually develops gradually and worsens if left untreated.

Rotator cuff tears typically result from tendon overuse or injury. It can be classified into partial or complete depending on the severity of the tendon tear.

Signs and
  • Pain that restricts movement
  • Limited range of motion in the shoulder
  • Difficulties reaching overhead or behind the back
  • Weakening of the shoulder
Diagnosing Rotator Cuff Problems

Your doctor will diagnose a rotator cuff problem through a physical examination, where you will be asked to perform a set of arm and shoulder movements to determine the location and severity of pain. Imaging tests such as X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and ultrasound may also be conducted.

Treatment Options

Depending on the severity of the rotator cuff problem, treatment can range from conservative management to surgical means.


Physiotherapy exercises are done to improve mobility and stability of the shoulder as well as reduce pain.


Corticosteroid injections may be recommended to reduce inflammation and pain. However, the effects are temporary.


In severe cases such as a complete tendon tear, shoulder surgery may be recommended.

  • Arthroscopic tendon repair
    Using a thin scope attached with a camera, the surgeon will access and operate on the injured rotator cuff through small incisions. Here, the damaged tendon will be reattached to the bone.
  • Open tendon repair
    This traditional type of shoulder surgery involves creating a larger incision to access the rotator cuff and reattach the injured tendon back to the bone. Compared to the arthroscopic technique, the recovery period is longer.
  • Tendon transfer
    This method is necessary if the tendon is too damaged to be reattached to the bone. In this case, the surgeon will obtain a tendon from another part of the body to be replaced the damaged tendon on the shoulder.
  • Shoulder replacement
    This is usually reserved for patients with severe rotator cuff injuries. The shoulder surgeon will remove and replace the original shoulder joint with an artificial ball-and-socket mechanism in order to restore mobility.
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