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Are You Experiencing These Telltale Signs of a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Are You Experiencing These Telltale Signs of a Rotator Cuff Tear?

The shoulder joint is an intricate and highly mobile part of the body, making it susceptible to a variety of injuries. Among them, rotator cuff tears are quite common, affecting nearly 2 million Americans each year—especially athletes and individuals engaged in activities that entail repetitive overhead movements. 

As an orthopedic shoulder and sports medicine surgeon in Santa Barbara, California, Dr. Matthew Pifer has extensive experience in diagnosing and treating rotator cuff tears. In this post, we'll explore the telltale signs of a rotator cuff tear and guide you on the next steps to take if you suspect you might have one.

What is a rotator cuff tear?

A rotator cuff tear is an injury that occurs when one or more of the tendons that make up the rotator cuff become partially or completely torn. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, providing stability and enabling a wide range of motion. 

Common symptoms of a rotator cuff tear

If you suspect you might have a rotator cuff tear, keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

Pain and weakness

One of the primary indicators of a rotator cuff tear is persistent pain in the shoulder, especially when lifting or rotating the arm. This pain is often accompanied by weakness or a feeling of instability in the shoulder joint, which can make everyday tasks more challenging.

Limited range of motion

Another common sign of a rotator cuff injury is difficulty raising your arm above your head or reaching behind your back. This limited range of motion can significantly impact your ability to perform daily activities, sports, or work-related tasks.

Popping or clicking sounds

If you hear a popping or clicking sound when you move your shoulder, it could be a sign of a torn rotator cuff. This noise might be accompanied by a sensation of grinding or catching within the joint, indicating possible damage to the tendons.

Nighttime pain

Many people with rotator cuff tears experience pain at night, particularly when lying on the affected shoulder. This nighttime pain can disrupt sleep and make it challenging to find a comfortable sleeping position.

Treatment options for rotator cuff tears

Depending on the severity and type of rotator cuff tear, Dr. Pifer may recommend one or a combination of the following treatment options:

Conservative treatment

Physical therapy, pain management, and activity modification are often the first line of treatment for rotator cuff tears. A customized therapy program can help improve your shoulder's strength, flexibility, and overall function.


In some cases, corticosteroid injections can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain, providing temporary relief. These injections can be particularly helpful for patients who are unable to undergo surgery or those who need additional pain management during the conservative treatment phase.


Rotator cuff surgery is often necessary for complete tears. Dr. Pifer is skilled in various surgical techniques, including minimally invasive arthroscopic procedures, to repair torn rotator cuffs. The chosen surgical approach will depend on the size and location of the tear, as well as your individual needs and goals.

Prevention tips for rotator cuff tears

Taking preventive measures can help reduce the risk of rotator cuff tears. Some tips include:

Strengthening exercises

Regularly performing exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and surrounding shoulder muscles can help maintain joint stability and reduce the likelihood of injury.

Proper technique

Using proper technique during sports and activities that involve repetitive overhead movements can minimize the risk of injury. 

Rest and recovery

Giving your shoulder adequate rest and recovery time between strenuous activities is crucial for preventing overuse injuries, including rotator cuff tears. 

Warm-up and stretching

Incorporating a proper warm-up routine prepares your muscles for activity, while stretching can help maintain or improve your shoulder's range of motion.

Don't let shoulder pain hold you back from the activities you enjoy. Timely diagnosis and expert care are crucial for overcoming a rotator cuff tear and regaining your shoulder's strength and functionality. 

Reach out to Dr. Matthew Pifer to get the personalized care and attention your shoulder needs. Take the first step toward healing and book a consultation with Dr. Pifer today.

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