The rotator cuff consists of four muscles. The infraspinatus, supraspinatus, teres minor and the subscapularis. The muscles start at the shoulder blade and they attach to the top of the humerous, which is the long upper arm bone. Considering where they attach, you can see that they are responsible for a lot of control over the shoulders movements. They provide stability to the shoulder joint, and they help with both elevation and rotation movements at the shoulder joint.
The muscles of the rotator cuff contract and place tension through the tendons. Sometimes this tension and force can be too much, whether it be through repetition or too much load at one time. This overload on the muscles can result in a partial or a complete tear of one of the rotator cuff muscles. They usually occur suddenly when the force through the muscle and tendon is too great, it is amplified if the shoulder is a strange position. Rotator cuff tears can also show up over time, when there is a movement that is repeated with reasonable load over and over, an example of someone at risk would be an athlete in an overhead sport. The muscle can degenerate and weaken gradually and you are therefore predisposed to a tear.
Signs of a Rotator Cuff Tear
If you have experienced a rotator cuff tear you might feel pain or a tearing sensation during the activity that caused the injury. If the tear is not substantial, you may feel the pain more after the activity has been stopped, and your shoulder cools down.
You shoulder will often ache, but when an aggravating movement occurs the pain can be sharp and pinpointed. The pain is usually localised in the shoulder and you will have trouble lifting the arm up, from the side or from the front depending on which muscle is affected. Pushing and pulling heavy objects can also become a problem.
The signs of a torn rotator cuff depend heavily on the severity of the injury. if it is a very minor tear, the symptoms will be reduced, maybe just an ache will be felt. In more severe cases or with people that have suffered for a long time, the muscle may also suffer, wasting away and getting weaker.