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shoulder joint.jpg

Fig1. Demonstrates the anatomy of the shoulder joint, including the rotator cuff. 

Fig 2. Image on the left shows the anatomy of a supraspinatus rotator cuff tear. Image on the right demonstrates a supraspinatus rotator cuff tear on MRI. 

Rotator Cuff

The Basics

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons in the shoulder that are needed for function and stability. The rotator cuff consists of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor muscles and tendons.  

There are various mechanisms in which the rotator cuff can be injured or torn. The supraspinatus muscle and tendon is the most commonly injured structure within the rotator cuff. Repetitive overhead motions can lead to irritation of the rotator cuff and subsequently injury. The rotator cuff can also be injured after an acute injury. 


Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include pain, loss of function, and weakness. When the rotator cuff is injured, patients often experience difficulty with overhead movement and loss of strength of the affected arm. Additionally, having a rotator cuff injury can predispose patients to acquiring adhesive capsulitis, aka a frozen shoulder. 


Diagnosis can be made by obtaining a thorough physical examination by your provider. Imaging studies such as Xrays and MRIs are often used to confirm the diagnosis.


Treatment for injuries to the cuff includes physical therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, injections, and potential surgery if other treatments fail.


Attribution for Images

1. OpenStax College. “Shoulder Joint”. Wikimedia Commons, 19 May 2013,

2. Nucleus Communications “Rotator cuff tear”. Wikimedia Commons, 3 December 2018,

3. Sandro Halank. “2018-10-11 Snatch (Weightlifting Girls' 58kg) at 2018 Summer Youth Olympics by Sandro Halank”. Wikimedia Commons, 11 October 2018,

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