What is a Rotator Cuff Tear in the Shoulder?

First, a quick explanation on how the shoulder works. Because the shoulder is used constantly in many activities that require effort in pulling, pushing and lifting motions, a torn tendon in the shoulder is a common injury.

The rotator cuff refers to a group of muscles and their corresponding tendons, whose main function lies in stabilizing the shoulder. Wrapped around the shoulder joint, these tendons and muscles make it possible for the shoulder to engage in a wider range of motion and allows the arm to rotate. This ability to rotate helps when you lift something overhead, when you use your arms for activities like swimming and bowling or when you do something as simple as putting a jacket on.

A tear basically means one of the tendons has been injured. The appearance varies in shape and size. However, it is usually associated with a hole in one of the tendons. This tear or hole is attributed to one of two things. It is caused by a traumatic injury or repetitive use injury.

Traumatic injury

When a shoulder injury is brought on by a traumatic occurrence, it simply means the tear happened as a result of a physical event or activity. Normally, this occurs when a person falls or has a very strong collision with a hard object.

Since these type of injuries happen due to accidents, they are not as common as repetitive use injuries. Moreover, younger and more athletic people are prone to this form of shoulder injury.

Repetitive use injury

Repetitive use injuries are how most rotator cuff tears occur. Years of repetitive use of the shoulder muscles cause gradual wear and tear on the tendons until they finally give out.

A repetitive use injury of the shoulder affects people who do a lot of overhead motions with their arms. This can be seen in people whose job involves stacking high shelves and in sports like tennis, rowing and baseball. This form of injury is more prominent in older people, especially those who are over 40 years of age.