Rotator Cuff Tear and Tendinitis

The rotator cuff is the common name for the group of muscles and tendons that help provide stability and strength to your upper arm and shoulder. It controls movement of your shoulder joint. Rotator cuff tendinitis occurs when these tendons become irritated or inflamed. When a tendon tears but does not completely detach from the bone, it is called a partial tear. A complete tear is when the tendon fully detaches from the bone.

Risk Factors

There are many possible causes of rotator cuff tendinitis:

  • Not moving the arm and keeping it in the same position for long periods of time
  • Sleeping on your side on the same arm each night
  • Playing sports where your arm is moved over your head repeatedly such as tennis, pitching a baseball or swimming
  • Performing work where your arm is kept over your head for many hours, such as painting or carpentry
  • Poor posture
  • Aging

The most common causes of rotator cuff tears are falling on your arm while it is stretched out, and trying to lift something heavy using a sudden, jerking motion.


If you have rotator cuff tendinitis, you will most likely experience mild pain when lifting your arm overhead or to the side. The pain may extend down the arm. If it reaches the elbow, you may have a pinched nerve. You may also have pain if you lie on the affected shoulder.

If you suffer a rotator cuff tear, the initial pain will normally be intense. Your arm and shoulder will most likely be weak and it will be hard to move your shoulder or lift your arm over your head. You may also feel snapping inside your shoulder when trying to move your arm. A tear can also cause pain at night, and it may even be enough to wake you up.

Detection and Diagnosis

Orthopedic surgeons at South Texas Health System Clinics can diagnose rotator cuff injuries by performing a physical exam or ordering imaging tests such as an X-ray, ultrasound or MRI to reveal swelling or tears or to rule out other possible causes of pain such as arthritis.

Find A Doctor


The best treatment for rotator cuff tendinitis is simply to rest your shoulder and avoid or reduce activities that cause or worsen your symptoms. Other things you can do to relieve pain and swelling include:

  • Apply ice packs to the area for 20 minutes, three or four times a day
  • Take pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Stretch and strengthen your shoulder muscles through physical therapy
  • Have corticosteroid injected into the shoulder
  • Have surgery to remove inflamed tissue and part of the bone over the rotator cuff to relieve pressure on the tendons

For partial rotator cuff tears, rest and physical therapy may help if you don’t place a lot of stress on your shoulder. For a complete tear, arthroscopic shoulder surgery may be needed to repair the tendon. In most cases, minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery can be used.