What is a rotator cuff injury?

06 Jan What is a rotator cuff injury?

The rotator cuff are a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder and support the head of the humerus (upper arm) into the shallow socket of the shoulder joint. They are important in stabilising the shoulder. These muscles and tendons are highly susceptible to tears, tendinopathies, impingement and other related pathologies. A rotator cuff injury will weaken your shoulder making many daily activities difficult to perform and painful. They can often interrupt your sleep and is may be difficult to lie on the affected side.tennis

Common Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries can range from mild tendon irritation to full thickness tears of the tendons. Common injuries shoulder-throwinclude:

  • Rotator cuff impingement
  • Rotator Cuff tendonitis/tendinopathies
  • Bursitis
  • Calcified tendons
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Long head of biceps tendinopathy
  • Long head of biceps tears


How does the rotator cuff get injured?

Rotator cuff injuries can occur slowly overtime with wear and tear and gradual degeneration of the tissue. This is commonly seen with people who do repetitive overhead movements with the arm in their job or sport.

Sometimes injuries may occur in a single episode eg. following a heavy or awkward lifting movement.

Injury risk increases with age.

How do I know if I have injured my rotator cuff?

Some common symptoms with rotator cuff injuries include:

  • Ache pain often deep, anteriorly or laterally, with intermittent sharp pains
  • Pain at rest and at night-time- especially when lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain on lifting and/or lowering the arm
  • Getting shirts/jackets/jumpers on and off
  • Weakness in lifting the arm
  • Clicking/Cracking sensation moving the arm in certain positions



Our Glen Iris and Malvern East physios will be able to diagnose your injury from a thorough history and assessment. If you play sport we encourage you to specifically see our sports physiotherapists. Treatment will vary depending on the specific injury that has occurred. In some cases imaging (Ultrasound, MRI) may be required.


Your management will first address your pain. This may involve hands on treatment, taping or icing at home. It is then important to restore the function of your tendon as well as the surrounding muscles to help support the shoulder region. Exercises will be prescribed depending on your presentation, condition and the daily requirements of your shoulder.  You can conveniently book online HERE.