Rotator Cuff Tendon Tears


The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons and muscles that surround the shoulder joint, providing stability whilst allowing for a wide range of motion. Rotator cuff tendon tears refer to injuries that occur to one or more of these tendons. These tears can vary in severity, ranging from mild to severe, and may involve partial or complete tears of the tendons.

Rotator cuff tendon tears are commonly caused by overuse, aging, or traumatic injury. Over time, the tendons can wear down or degenerate, making them more susceptible to tears. Repetitive overhead activities, such as those performed in certain sports or jobs, can contribute to this wear and tear. Acute injuries, such as a fall or a sudden forceful movement, can also result in rotator cuff tendon tears.

Clinical Presentation

The clinical presentation of rotator cuff tendon tears can vary depending on the severity of the tear, whether it’s partial or complete, and individual factors. Common signs and symptoms associated with rotator cuff tendon tears include:

  • Pain:
    Pain is a common symptom and is often felt on the outside of the shoulder and upper arm. The pain may be more intense when lifting or lowering the arm, reaching overhead, and also at night. 
  • Weakness:
    Individuals with a rotator cuff tear may experience weakness in the affected arm. This weakness can affect the ability to lift or rotate the arm, leading to functional limitations. 
  • Limited Range of Motion:
    A reduced range of motion in the shoulder is a common finding. Patients may have difficulty reaching overhead, behind their back, or out to the side. This limitation is often associated with pain and weakness. 
  • Crepitus:
    Some individuals with a rotator cuff tear may experience a crackling or popping sensation (crepitus) in the shoulder when moving the arm. This can be due to catching of the torn tendon within the joint. 
  • Night Pain:
    Pain and discomfort may be more pronounced at night, especially when lying on the affected shoulder. Sleep disturbances are common in individuals with rotator cuff tears. 
  • Muscle Atrophy:
    In cases of chronic or severe tears, muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass) may occur in the affected shoulder. This can be visibly noticeable and contribute to weakness.
  • It’s important to note that the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear can be similar to other shoulder conditions, and a proper diagnosis typically involves a thorough clinical examination, imaging studies (such as MRI or ultrasound), and sometimes additional tests. Early diagnosis and appropriate management, whether through conservative measures or surgical intervention, can help optimise outcomes for individuals with rotator cuff tendon tears. 

Treatment Options

The treatment of a rotator cuff tendon tear depends on various factors, including the size and severity of the tear, the patient’s symptoms, and overall health. Treatment options range from conservative measures to surgical intervention. Here are common approaches:

Conservative Management:

  • Rest: Avoiding activities that worsen symptoms and giving the shoulder time to heal.
  • Physiotherapy:  A physiotherapist can recommend exercises to improve shoulder strength, flexibility, and stability. These exercises aim to restore function and alleviate pain.
  • Pain Management: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may be recommended to manage pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: These injections may be used to reduce inflammation and provide temporary relief from pain. They are typically not a long-term solution and are often used in conjunction with other treatments.
  • Activity Modification: Long term modification of daily activities or work-related tasks to minimise strain on the shoulder is an important consideration, particularly in the management of degenerative tendon tears.

Surgical Intervention: 

Arthroscopic Surgery: This minimally invasive procedure involves using a small camera and surgical instruments to assess and treat the tear. Arthroscopy may include procedures such as:

  • Debridement: Removal of damaged tissue.
  • Tendon Repair: re-attaching the tendon to the bone from which it has torn.
  • Subacromial Decompression and bursectomy: removal of the sub-acromial bursa and associated bony spurs to create more room for the repaired tendon to function.
  • Biological Augmentation: patch grafts can be used to provide both structural strength and biological enhancement to the tendon repair, and may be used in certain circumstances.
  • Rehabilitation: Following surgery, a structured rehabilitation program is crucial. Physiotherapy will focus on gradually restoring range of motion, strength, and function.

The choice of treatment depends on factors such as the size and location of the tear, the patient’s age, activity level, and overall health. Conservative measures are often attempted first, with surgery considered if symptoms persist or if the tear is severe. Early intervention is essential to prevent further damage and optimise recovery.

To schedule an appointment with Dr Matthew Evans to discuss your Rotator Cuff tear, please contact us by phone – (03) 9529 3820, or email

Call Now ButtonCall Now