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About rotator cuff tears and anatomy

Woman holding her fallen left shoulder with her right hand with mouth in a frown.

Rotator cuff tears can affect people of all ages, but are more common in the older population. 

Rotator cuff tears can be caused by:

  • Traumatic injury
  • Repetitive shoulder motion
  • Degeneration

The size and location of the rotator cuff tear can affect the severity of symptoms. 

Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Night pain (difficulty sleeping)
  • Inability to lift your arm
  • Weakness
  • Popping, clicking in your shoulder
The role of the tendons is to hold the powerful shoulder muscles to the shoulder and arm bones. The tendons can be torn from overuse or injury.

Rotator cuff anatomy

The rotator cuff consists of four muscles and tendons in your shoulder; the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor. These muscles and tendons connect your upper arm bone (humerus) with your shoulder blade (scapula). The rotator cuff also helps to hold the upper arm bone in place in the shoulder socket (glenoid). The rotator cuff allows for a wide range of motion of your arm and shoulder.

There are four muscle tendons that connect to the shoulder that make up the rotator cuff. Together these four tendons stabilize the upper arm bone to the shoulder socket and allow the wide range of motion in the shoulder.