Rotator Cuff Syndrome

Rotator Cuff Syndrome

Rotator cuff syndrome is a common shoulder injury seen in patients and consists of a group of injuries that range from rotator cuff tears, to tendonitis, to rotator cuff impingement. The percentage of people with a rotator cuff tear who do not show symptoms increases as one ages as seen in the chart below 1.

Rotator Cuff Tears without Symptoms
50-59 Years Old 13%
60-69 Years Old 20%
70-79 Years Old 31%
80-89 Year Old 51%


What does the rotator cuff do exactly?

The rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles, and its main job is to keep the ball within the socket through a wide range of motion. This relationship can be imagined by placing a tennis ball in an open hand.  If these four muscles don’t do their jobs correctly, the ability of the arm to move through its full motion pain free starts to diminish. Over time this may cause discomfort and or diminish the ability to reach for items above your head or rotate your arm to get dressed in the morning.

What can be done to help with pain and/or mobility?

There are shoulder exercises that can strengthen specific muscle groups that may be causing increased symptoms. I would encourage you to follow up with a Physical Therapist or Occupational Therapist who can evaluate your shoulder to determine where your weaknesses are, assess mechanics and identify the causes of your shoulder discomfort.  As the chart above shows, one can have significant tears in the rotator cuff muscles and still function completely normally.  The difference between the individuals with tears and those who may just be having symptoms is typically a strength deficit within the four rotator cuff muscles.  Strength deficits in muscles that attach to the shoulder from the spine may also contribute to decreased shoulder function.


Work Cited

  1. Age-related prevalence of rotator cuff tears in asymptomatic shoulders

Siegbert Tempelhof-Stefan Rupp-Romain Seil – Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery – 1999

  1. Shoulder (glenohumeral) Joint

Kenhub –