Rotator Cuff Tear: Signs & Symptoms

By Gregg R. Foos, MD, FACS

If you are experiencing pain in your upper arm and shoulder, especially while performing overhead activities, you may have a torn rotator cuff. But what exactly does that mean? The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that covers the top of the upper arm bone (humerus) and holds it in place in the shoulder joint. It helps stabilize the humerus in the socket, and it allows you to rotate your arm. A tear in the rotator cuff means that there has been damage to the muscle/tendon, usually where it attaches to the bone. These can vary from minor to severe. This damage is not always associated with an injury, such as a fall, and often occurs from simple repetitive overuse. Bone spurs around the shoulder can lead to this type of damage.

An orthopaedic surgeon can evaluate and diagnose rotator cuff injuries with a few simple tests. Below are some of the signs that your rotator cuff may be torn or partially torn.


One common sign is pain, especially with overhead motions or while sleeping.

Inability to Perform Activities of Daily Living

A common complaint is pain or the inability to perform normal tasks, such as reaching for your wallet in your back pocket, combing your hair, or reaching overhead for something in the pantry.

Decreased Strength

Lifting even small items, like a gallon of milk, may become difficult.

Painful Range of Motion

Simply moving your shoulder in certain directions can cause pain.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or would simply like more information about rotator cuff tears, call our specialists at Professional Orthopaedic Associates at (732) 530-4949.