Rotator Cuff Tears

Rotator Cuff Tear Overview

The rotator cuff is a group of tendons that stabilize and move the shoulder. A rotator cuff tear occurs when one or more of the tendons are partially or completely torn. Patients who injure their shoulder and experience rotator cuff tear symptoms should make an appointment with a Carolina Orthopaedic and Neurosurgical Associates’ (CONA) shoulder specialist as soon as possible. Delaying treatment may make the injury and its symptoms worse.

Symptoms & Causes

Torn rotator cuff tear symptoms include:

  • Crepitus (a cracking sensation) when moving the shoulder
  • Difficulty raising and rotating the arm
  • Pain
  • Shoulder instability
  • Weakness

Common rotator cuff causes include:

  • Age
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Overuse
  • Throwing sports

Common Treatments:

Nonsurgical treatment options treat partial rotator cuff tears. After a thorough evaluation, a CONA shoulder specialist may recommend:

  • Immobilization in a sling
  • Injections
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
  • Rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE)
  • Physical therapy

A minimally invasive rotator cuff repair may be recommended to treat complete tears. A CONA specialist repairs the torn tendon and attaches it to the shoulder bone.


A CONA specialist listens to the patient’s symptoms and asks questions to find out exactly when and how the injury occurred. A complete physical examination of the shoulder is performed, including strength and flexibility tests. Medical imaging studies are ordered and analyzed. X-rays show the shoulder bones and an MRI shows bones and soft tissues. If present, a rotator cuff tear is diagnosed.

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