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Torn Rotator Cuff = Painful Shoulder

About a year ago, I was taking the same yoga class I had been taking for years. I should have been paying attention to what was happening in the present moment, but my mind was focused on a fight I had with a friend earlier that day. When I pressed my hands into the mat and lifted my lower body up off the ground to jump back to Chaturunga (4-Limbed Staff), I felt a pinching pain in the top of my left shoulder. A fellow yogi (who also happened to be a massage therapist) said it might be a torn rotator cuff. Just what I needed.

Your rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles and their tendons. These combine to form a "cuff" over the head of the humerus bone, and help to stabilize, support and allow your arm to move up and down, as well as rotate. When the muscles get strained or pulled, they can tear, and Bingo! - you've got yourself a torn rotator cuff.

Swimmers, pitchers, and tennis players are prone to rotator cuff tears. You can also tear your rotator cuff lifting something too heavy, by repetitive activities, or if you've injured your shoulder previously in an accident or dislocation.

So how do you know if you have a torn rotator cuff? To find out

For me, when I raised my arm above my head, I would feel a piercing pain in the front of my shoulder that radiated down my arm. Some people feel pain when they're not moving it at all, or when they lie on it at night. A torn rotator cuff may also cause stiffness or loss of movement in your shoulder.

If you suspect you have a torn rotator cuff, you should definitely have it examined by a doctor. They'll measure your range of motion (or lack of - ouch!!!) in different directions, and test the strength in your arm. You may need X-rays, and possibly an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) so your doctor can better visualize the rotator cuff tendon. In some circumstances, an Arthrogram may be helpful, in which local anesthetic and dye is injected into the joint.

If you do have a rotator cuff tear, an orthopedic surgeon will recommend the most effective treatment. In many instances, non-surgical treatments can provide pain relief and can improve the function of your shoulder.

Treatments include:

  • Overall rest, and limited use of that arm (that's what I did)
  • Use of a sling
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Steroid injection
  • Strengthening exercises, and physical therapy (did this too)

Unfortunately, if these don't work and you're in a severe amount of pain, surgery may be necessary.

Join The Conversation
Syed-Haider2622492 Syed-Haider2622492 5 years
It was the day of december 2011 ,when i was having my daily workout routine .I was treating triceps muscle followed by pecs and when i was doing the close grip benchpress suddenly my right arm free fell onto my chest. I had a lot of pain at my R shoulder .I\u00a0immediately stopped the exercise and went to home. After a week i resumed my exc and while doing shoulder and chest exercise i felt an unbearable pain. Then the intensity of pain decreases with time but not properly to zero :( . After a long five months i am still feeling the same pain . I've quit the gym. The doctor didn't come up with a proper analysis. I love my body i want to continue my workout routine , the pain is\u00a0psychologically\u00a0killing me.
Jtietz Jtietz 5 years
my baseball coach a few years ago said i tore my rotator cuff, so i went to the doctor and all he said was go through physical therapy and itl all be better. I did therapy for 2 years and yet it still hurts all the time. I dont know what to do because i think surgery would help alot because im in almost every sport our school has to offer. Any ideas?
AuntDink AuntDink 8 years
I was diagnosed with torn rotator cuff, numerous bicep tendon tears and a spur. I am so tired of surgeries. What happens if I don't have this surgery??
SU3 SU3 10 years
I have a friend going through physical therapy for a torn rotator cuff (and yes, it's helping her out tremendously!). I remember when I was with her and she was feeling the piercing pain in her shoulder! It hurt soo much she couldn't stop crying... it was horrible.
Fitness Fitness 10 years
Andiself - YES!!! PT exercises are so important. And REST!!! It's hard to not do the things you love that involve your injured shoulder, but it's a must if you want it to heal.
Fitness Fitness 10 years
Yes, wackdoodle - repetitive movements can also tear your rotator cuff - how about using your non-dominant hand to draw with? Could be some interesting artistic outcomes...
Beautifulbarbie Beautifulbarbie 10 years
Ouch, that sounds painful.
ceeceesun ceeceesun 10 years
I'm in PT right now for this...:( I hope it works!
esk4 esk4 10 years
haha 3 girls on my volleyball team have already had to have rotator cuff surgery... its easy to avoid with preventitive exercises though
mrsgrillo mrsgrillo 10 years
my husband tore his rotator cuff about a month before the baseball draft his senior year of HS :( He had it fixed, pitched in college, and tore it again his junior year. Luckily, he went to a great college and got an excellent degree, but it stunk having his dreams really killed like that
andiself andiself 10 years
I had a misdiagnosed torn rotator cuff for about two years- the doctor said I had Fibromyalgia. I went to one surgeon who said it was just sprained, and finally after 3 years and countless sessions of physical therapy, MRIs, and Xrays, a new doctor decided to perform the surgery. When they went in, they discovered that I had a deep tear and a bone spur that wasn't visible on the MRI. Finally some relief; I could lift my arm again. However, even with physical therapy after my surgery, I got bicep tendinitis (it's gone now) and can't sleep on my right side. You HAVE to make sure you do your physical therapy all the time. You will not have relief until you do.
Amethyst Amethyst 10 years
I have arthritis in my rotator cuff (from karate classes) and I separated my shoulder shoveling snow this past winter. It HURTS like hell!
wackdoodle wackdoodle 10 years
Other peole who get rotor cuff injuries - art students. Odd having your doctor tell you "no more charcoals or pastels for the next three months. You've got a torn rotor cuff." Huh? How? Overuse, excessive repeative use and heavy lifting (of 50 lb blocks of clay) with the same arm over and over again. Hooray for art school!
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