In the Division of Musculoskeletal Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, musculoskeletal radiologists are recognized internationally for clinical expertise in the diagnosis of bone, joint and spine disorders including sports injury, trauma, arthritis, cancer and other conditions. We specialize in interventions that use image guidance for pain management, spine and joint injections, biopsies and minimally invasive cancer treatments. Our radiologists are also known for teaching and research in musculoskeletal disorders.Request an Appointment
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Pediatric and Adult Patients
The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Mass General provides high-quality, personalized care for every orthopaedic condition.
The MassGeneral Hospital for Children Orthopaedics Service provides clinical care to infants, children and adolescents, from birth to college age, for the entire spectrum of musculoskeletal problems.
Contact the MGHfC Pediatric Orthopaedics Service at: 617-726-8523
Rotator Cuff Injury
What is a rotator cuff injury?
Your rotator cuff consists of muscles and tendons that hold your shoulder in place. It is one of the most important parts of your shoulder.
Your rotator cuff allows you to lift your arms and reach upward. Each year, millions of people in the United States go to their healthcare providers because of a rotator cuff problem. A rotator cuff tear is a common cause of pain and disability among adults.
What causes a rotator cuff injury?
There are 2 main causes of rotator cuff tears: injury and degeneration. An injury to the rotator cuff, such as a tear, may happen suddenly when falling on an outstretched hand. It may also develop over time due to repetitive activities. Rotator cuff tears may also happen due to aging, with degeneration of the tissues.
What are the symptoms of rotator cuff tear?
The following are the most common symptoms of a rotator cuff tear. However, you may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Recurrent pain, especially with certain activities
- Pain that prevents you from sleeping on your injured side
- Grating or cracking sounds when moving your arm
- Limited ability to move your arm
- Muscle weakness
The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is a rotator cuff injury diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures for a rotator cuff injury may include the following:
- X-ray. A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
A rotator cuff may tear partially or fully. Partial-thickness tears do not completely sever the tendon from the shoulder.
How is a rotator cuff injury treated?
Your healthcare provider will determine the specific treatment for a rotator cuff injury, based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of the condition
- Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the condition
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines
- Strengthening and stretching exercises
- Ultrasound therapy
- Corticosteroid injection
- Surgery (for severe injuries)
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Notify your healthcare provider if:
- Your pain becomes worse or begins to interfere with your normal activities or ability to sleep well
- You can’t use your shoulder as much as you were able to previously
Key points about rotator cuff injury
- Your rotator cuff allows you to lift your arms and reach upward.
- There are 2 main causes of rotator cuff tears: injury and degeneration.
- The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear may resemble other conditions or medical problems. It is important to talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
- Your healthcare provider will determine specific treatment for your rotator cuff injury.
Next stepsTips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.