Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tear - Fact Sheet

What is it?

The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that surround the shoulder. They work mainly as a dynamic stabilizer of the shoulder, ensuring the shoulder joint is stable when moving in all directions. A rotator cuff tear involves a disruption to the muscles and/or tendons of the rotator cuff and is a common injury of the shoulder. Degenerative rotator cuff tears occur naturally, or when the shoulder is exposed to loads it can’t tolerate.

AC joint injury

What causes a Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tear?​

Due to its lack of good blood supply, the rotator cuff is susceptible to wear and tear. Degenerative rotator cuff tears can occur with no apparent mechanism of injury, or with sudden sharp movements such as:

• Pushing, pulling or lifting objects with incorrect technique
• Dogs pulling on a leash, pulling on the shoulder. Children pulling down on the arm/shoulder.
• Falling onto the shoulder

Signs and Symptoms

• Unilateral, sharp shoulder pain, particularly with overhead movements, reaching movements, or moving the up upwards out to the side (abduction)
• This pain can refer down the side of the shoulder, normally about halfway to the elbow
• As a protective mechanism, other muscles in the shoulder and arm can stiffen up.
• Stiff shoulder joint, as a result of wear and tear and general stiffness.

Shoulder Assessment

Treatment for Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tear?

Mobility exercises: Exercises that promote a gradual improvement of shoulder range of motion, without aggravating the injury.

Strengthening exercises: particularly of the muscles between the shoulder blades and the rotator cuff muscles itself, improving muscular strength and control of the shoulder complex. This will help improve the overall function of the shoulder and rotator cuff but can be a bit painful initially!

A positive attitude! These issues can take some time to resolve, particularly if you have been struggling with this issue for a few months. Don’t get disheartened! You WILL get better!

*** Please note that surgical interventions are NOT indicated for degenerative rotator cuff tears! Surgeries on degenerative tendons have a very high re-rupture rate.

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