Rotator cuff tear

Revision as of 05:14, 18 February 2015 by Rossdonaldson1 (talk | contribs)


  • Majority of tears occur due to chronic impingement in pts >40yrs
  • Acute tears require significant trauma: shoulder dislocation, FOOSH
  • Consider rotator cuff tear in pt w/ weakness for >3wk after acute shoulder dislocation
  • Supraspinatus is most commonly affected tendon

Clinical Features

  • Acute Injury
    • "Tearing" sensation in shoulder followed by severe pain / inability to raise arm
    • Inability to abduct or externally rotate arm against even minimal resistance
    • Drop arm test is positive
    • Local swelling
  • Chronic Injury
    • Gradual and progressive pain, worse at night
    • Pain localizes to lateral aspect of upper arm
    • Arm elevation, external rotation, and lifting objects worsens the pain
  • Exam
    • Disuse atrophy may be present in chronic tears
    • TTP lateral aspect of upper arm or in subacromial region


  • See Shoulder (Tests)
  • Imaging
    • Diagnosis should rely on clinical findings; cannot use imaging to rule-out tear
    • May give some diagnostic information:
      • Narrowing of acromiohumeral space (<7mm) is most specific sign
      • May see humeral head sclerosis, osteophytes on undersurface of acromion/clavicle

Differential Diagnosis

Shoulder and Upper Arm Diagnoses



Refered pain & non-orthopedic causes:


  • Arm sling until acute symptoms subside
  • Analgesia
    • NSAIDs, opioids, ice
  • Exercises
    • Pendulum swings
      • Pt bends slightly at waist w/ arm hanging freely in front of body
      • Arms should be swung in gentle arcs of motion both clockwise and counter-clockwise
      • Swing to level of pain tolerance x 5-10min TID-QID
    • Walk fingers up wall
      • Stand sideways an arm's length from wall and walk fingers up wall to level of pain tolerance TID-QID


  • Ortho follow-up within 1 week

See Also


  • Tintinalli