Rotator cuff disorders

Rotator cuff disorders are irritations in or damage to tendons around the shoulder. These disorders include inflammation of the tendons (tendinitis) or the bursa (bursitis), a calcium buildup in the tendons, or partial or complete tears of the tendon.

The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons and their related muscles that helps keep the upper arm bone securely placed, or seated, in the socket of the shoulder joint. Problems related to the rotator cuff can cause shoulder pain and reduced mobility. These types of problems may develop as a person ages and the rotator cuff gradually breaks down (degeneration). Sports and activities where you use your arms above your head a lot—such as tennis, swimming, or house painting—are also a common cause of rotator cuff injury.

Age-related degeneration slowly damages the rotator cuff, causing one or more tendons to rub against the bones (impingement). Partial or complete tears to a rotator cuff tendon are more likely to occur when the rotator cuff is already weakened or damaged. A complete rotator cuff tear in a person with an otherwise healthy shoulder is most often caused by an extremely forceful injury.

Symptoms of rotator cuff disorders include shoulder pain, weakness, and stiffness, most often on the front and side of the shoulder and upper arm.

Early minor shoulder problems usually heal with home treatment, such as ice and resting the shoulder. Physical therapy and medicines to reduce inflammation and relieve pain may be recommended. Surgery may be used to remove loose fragments of tendon and other debris from around the joint, to open up space in the joint, or to repair a torn rotator cuff tendon.

Last Updated: January 7, 2010

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine & Patrick J. McMahon, MD - Orthopedics

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