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Rotator Cuff Disorders

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Symptoms

A rotator cuff disorder causes pain and weakness in your shoulder. It may be uncomfortable or impossible to do everyday activities, such as combing your hair, tucking in your shirt, or reaching above your head.

Most often, you will feel the pain on the side and front of your upper arm and shoulder. You may have pain during the night and have trouble sleeping on that side. Pain is almost always worse when you make overhead movements.

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Because of the pain, you may try not to use your arm. And that can cause even more weakness and stiffness in the shoulder.

The amount of pain usually depends on how much damage there is:

  • Minor damage: Pain most often occurs only when you are active and is usually relieved with rest.
  • Moderate damage: You will likely notice pain both during and after activity. Pain may also occur at night, especially when you lie on your shoulder.
  • Severe damage: You may have continuous pain.

Sometimes the pain isn't directly related to the amount of damage. For example, your rotator cuff may have minor damage, but strength and the loss of range of motion may be severe because it's too painful to move in certain ways. This is especially true if you normally make a lot of overhead movements.

Symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis

In tendinitis (inflammation in the tendon), the pain usually starts gradually, over the side of the shoulder and the upper arm.

  • Your shoulder and arm aren't particularly weak but it hurts to use them.
  • The pain may spread down the outside of the upper arm, even to the elbow.
  • The pain may be worse at night and may keep you awake, especially if you lie on that side.
  • Lifting the arm to the side or to the front makes the pain worse.

Over time, the pain may get worse or you may have constant pain. In some cases, this is because you actually have one or more small tendon tears.

Some people also have tendinitis in other parts of the shoulder. And some people have neck pain from using other muscles to help move the shoulder.

Symptoms of rotator cuff tears

The most common symptoms of a tear are:

  • Pain when you move your arm, especially overhead or against resistance.
  • Pain at night.
  • Weakness in your shoulder, although some people don't notice any weakness if the tear is small.

Symptoms of a sudden, severe tear include:

  • A popping sound or tearing sensation in your shoulder.
  • Immediate pain in your shoulder.
  • Weakness and pain when you lift or rotate your arm.
  • Limited range of motion and inability to raise your arm because of pain or weakness.
  • Possibly, bruising in your shoulder or upper arm.

You can have a complete tear without symptoms, especially if you are an older adult who is not very active.

In rare cases, shoulder pain may be a sign of a more serious problem with your heart or lungs.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 07, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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