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Ask the PT – Rotator Cuff Tears

Dear WSPT,

I was playing a pickup game of baseball with my friends the other day and have been experiencing chronic pain in my shoulder running down my arm. I thought at the time it was just soreness from pitching but it has not fully gone away and I am nervous I may have tore my rotator cuff. How do I know if this is the case and how can physical therapy help this condition?

Thank you,


Hi there,

I would like to begin answering your question by explaining the anatomy of the rotator cuff and it’s relation to the shoulder. The rotator cuff is a large group of four muscles and their tendons that help to stabilize the shoulder. The four muscles associated with the rotator cuff are (1) supraspinatus, (2) infraspinatus, (3) subscapularis and (4) teres minor. An injury of the rotator cuff occurs when a tendon of one of these four muscles is torn.

A rotator cuff injury can occur in two ways. An acute injury, such as from a fall, can cause a tear even if the tendon was previously healthy, but may also occur with other injuries such as shoulder dislocation or separation. Chronic tears occur after an extended amount of stress is put on the area and can occur through work-related injuries (e.g.: lifting heavy objects) or repetitive motion stress from sports such as baseball, tennis, or rowing.

The pain and symptoms of a rotator cuff tear can include the following:

(1) A dull pain deep in the shoulder.
(2) Trouble sleeping on the side of the injury.
(3) Difficulty moving the shoulder or trouble lifting hands over your head.
(4) Snapping or cracking sounds when moving the shoulder.

Physical therapy can help a rotator cuff tear in a number of ways as it is shown to be just as effective as surgery. Patients will be given exercises to do both during sessions and at home and they will increase in intensity as time goes on. Physical therapy can help relieve pain and improve the strength of the shoulder.

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