Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Problems

Rotator cuff problems are very common in the adult population and are the most common reason I see patients in my office for shoulder pain.  The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons that help move and stabilize the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint.  Specifically, the tendons are the subscapularis, the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, and the teres minor.  It is the supraspinatus tendon that is involved in the majority of rotator cuff problems.


Symptoms of rotator cuff syndrome usually involve pain in the deltoid region of the shoulder, often radiating down the upper arm and sometimes into the shoulder blade and neck.  The pain frequently occurs at night, especially when lying on your side (side sleeping); or with use of the arm, especially with reaching overhead or behind the back.  Pain will also occur when lifting things away from the body.  In many cases, there is pain at rest, with the sensation of a “tooth ache in the shoulder”.  Shoulder weakness and loss of range of motion also commonly occur with rotator cuff issues.


Rotator cuff problems can range from inflammation of the rotator cuff tendon (tendinitis) and bursa (bursitis) (also known as impingement syndrome); to partial or full thickness tears of the rotator cuff tendon; to large, retracted tears of the rotator cuff tendon with secondary arthritis of the joint (known as rotator cuff arthropathy).  The onset of symptoms most often are gradual, with no apparent cause, usually in adults in their 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s.  The pain can also come on quickly with or without a particular inciting cause (i.e., household chores with overhead reaching or lifting and then pain the next day).  Rotator cuff tears can also occur because of trauma (i.e., falls, sports injuries, motor vehicle accidents).


There are other problems that can cause pain in the shoulder that are often confused with rotator cuff problems.  Cervical radiculopathy (a pinched nerve in your neck) can cause pain and numbness in the shoulder, often radiating down the arm to the hand or to the shoulder blade.  Shoulder arthritis (glenohumeral arthritis) indicates wear of the cartilage on the joint surfaces of the shoulder joint.  It can also cause pain in the shoulder but is much less common than rotator cuff problems.  The labrum is another cartilage structure in the shoulder joint that can tear and cause shoulder pain.  Often labral tears occur because of an injury, but at times the tear is degenerative in nature.  Superior labral tears (also known as SLAP tears) can cause shoulder pain often associated with popping or clicking in the shoulder.  Biceps tendonitis or biceps tendon tears can cause pain in the front of the shoulder, often radiating into the biceps muscle.  Differentiating between these diagnoses often requires an exam by a qualified medical provider, X-rays, and sometimes an MRI.


I hope this information is helpful if you have shoulder problems, and I hope The Shoulder Pillow will be helpful in relieving the pain you are experiencing.