Rotator Cuff Injury

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Rotator Cuff Injury Overview

The rotator cuff is an extremely important structure located within the shoulder joint responsible for stabilizing the shoulder and allowing overhead motion of the arm. Composed of four muscle-tendon units, the rotator cuff muscles include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor. If any of the muscle-tendon units sustain injury, patients may experience shoulder pain and loss of motion. A rotator cuff tear is commonly seen as the tendon degenerates with aging and overuse. It is unusual to see rotator cuff tears in patients under the age of 50 unless there has been significant trauma to the shoulder. Santa Barbara, Goleta, Santa Maria and Ventura, California orthopedic shoulder specialist, Dr. Jervis Yau focuses on rotator cuff treatment, both surgical and non-surgical, to return patients to the athletic activities following a rotator cuff tear.

A rotator cuff injury is commonly marked by “tearing” of the tendon attachment from the humerus (upper arm bone). A rotator cuff tear typically occurs from:

  • Acute trauma- A hard hit or fall from a height
  • Overuse- Repetitive, continuous overhead motions associated with athletic activities, such as pitching, swimming and tennis
  • Degeneration- Normal wear and tear from the natural aging process causes a collagen breakdown, making the tendons and muscles more prone to injury

A rotator cuff tear may also be associated with tendonitis or shoulder impingement in certain patients. Injuries to the rotator cuff can range from mild strain to complete tear.

Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms

Rotator cuff tears are characterized by pain over the top and side of the shoulder. Pain may also be referred down towards the elbow joint and often interferes with sleep. Another common symptom many patients experience is joint weakness. The combination of pain and weakness can make activities of daily living difficult.

Have you sustained a rotator cuff tear?

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Rotator Cuff Tear Diagnosis

Diagnosis is obtained thorough a thorough history and physical examination looking for weakness, loss of motion, muscle and pain. Dr. Yau commonly performs X-rays and MRI scan to assess the severity of injury.

Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment

Treatment of rotator cuff injuries largely depends on the type, partial verus full-thickness tears, chronicity, age and activity level.


The overall goal of non-surgical treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation while strengthening the uninjured muscles around the shoulder joint to offset the torn tendon or muscle. Dr. Yau achieves this with a combination of rest, ice/heat, activity modification, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and physical therapy.


An arthroscopic rotator cuff repair is performed by Dr. Yau if conservative measures fail or if the rotator cuff tear is too severe. During the arthroscopic treatment, Dr. Yau will use an arthroscope (tiny camera) and special minimally invasive instruments to examine and repair the damaged tissue. Arthroscopic surgery is typically utilized to achieve maximum recovery with less pain and quicker return to activities.

For additional resources on a rotator cuff injury, such as a rotator cuff tear, please contact Dr. Jervis Yau, orthopedic shoulder specialist in the Santa Barbara, Goleta, Santa Maria and Ventura, California communities.