Rotator Cuff Tear: Signs and Symptoms

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that covers the top of the upper arm bone, also called the humerus, and holds it in place in the shoulder joint. It also allows the arm to rotate at the shoulder joint. When the rotator cuff is torn, it can be a common source of shoulder pain. But, how do you know if you have a torn rotator cuff?

Most rotator cuff tears are the result of overuse of the muscles and tendons, or they are caused by an injury or fall. Determining if a tear is the cause of your pain depends on the symptoms of your condition. An orthopedic doctor can help you determine the source of your pain. Here are some of the signs doctors look for when diagnosing a rotator cuff tear:


If you have a torn rotator cuff, you will experience pain over the outside of the shoulder and upper arm. Pain most commonly occurs while performing overhead activities.

Decreased Strength

An orthopedic doctor can help determine the strength of your rotator cuff by performing special tests. If you cannot raise your arm over your head or hold your arm directly out from the body, the rotator cuff is most likely torn.

Inability to Perform Normal Tasks

A common complaint by patients with a torn rotator cuff is not being able to perform daily activities, such as combing their hair, reaching behind their back, or sleeping on the affected shoulder. Be sure to share with your doctor any tasks that you are unable to perform.

Abnormal Test Results

Diagnosis of a rotator cuff tear is also based on a physical examination. Orthopedic doctors perform tests, such as MRIs, X-rays, and ultrasounds, to help see the extent of the damage to the tendons and muscles.

To learn more about rotator cuff tears, call our shoulder specialist at The Hand & Upper Extremity Center of Georgia at (404) 255-0226 or request an appointment online.