Rotator Cuff Tear

Rotator cuff tears may occur in two ways:

  • A sudden acute tear may happen when you fall on your arm while it is stretched out. Or it can occur after a sudden, jerking motion when you try to lift something heavy.
  • A chronic tear of the rotator cuff tendon occurs slowly over time. It is more likely when you have chronic tendinitis or impingement syndrome. At some point, the tendon wears down and tears.

There are two types of rotator cuff tears:

  • A partial tear occurs when a tear does not completely sever the attachments to the bone.
  • A complete, full thickness tear means that the tear goes all the way through the tendon. It may be as small as a pinpoint, or the tear may involve the entire tendon. With complete tears, the tendon has come off (detached) from where it was attached to the bone. This kind of tear does not heal on its own.


Rest and physical therapy may help with a partial tear if you do not normally place a lot of demand on your shoulder.

Surgery to repair the tendon may be needed if the rotator cuff has a complete tear. Surgery may also be needed if the symptoms do not get better with other treatment. Most of the time, arthroscopic surgery (minimally invasive) is sufficient to adequately perform the repair. Large tears may need open surgery (surgery with a larger incision) to repair the torn tendon.

Learn More about Expert Shoulder Treatment at the Northside Hospital Orthopedic Institute-Sports Medicine

If you have experienced a shoulder injury or are experiencing painful shoulder movement, our team can help. Call 1-855-NH-SPORT to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic sports medicine shoulder specialists.


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