The Most Common Rotator Cuff Tear Causes: Here’s What You Need to Know

Posted on Nov 24, 2020, by

Every year, nearly 2 million Americans report paying a visit to their doctor due to issues related to a rotator cuff tear. Made of muscles and tendons, the rotator cuff is what keeps your upper arm bone secured within your shoulder socket. Rotator cuff tear causes include physical injury, progressive degeneration and wear and tear on your tendon. 

People who must use their rotator cuff at work are more prone to injure it, such as carpenters and painters who often have their arms above their heads. However, severe injury can be caused by a sudden and extreme event, such as falling or car accidents. With that said, rotator cuff tears are most common, due to wear and tear, in people older than 60.

Symptoms of an injured rotator cuff include:

  • Dull shoulder aches
  • Pain when moving your arm away from your body
  • Weakness when trying to lift something

Depending on the severity of the tear, treatment options can include rest, heat, ice, steroid injections, low-resistance exercises, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, or surgery. 

What causes a rotator cuff tear?

Read on for more information about rotator cuff tear causes and the most common rotator cuff injuries. As always, if you have any questions, contact us at The Kennedy Center where we have expert surgeons who specialize in shoulder problems.

1. Substantial injury

As mentioned above, sudden injuries such as falling or car accidents, can cause substantial injury to your rotator cuff. If you’re involved in sports, such as football or baseball, you may also be more likely to experience more severe injury to your rotator cuff. 

A substantial rotator cuff injury may include:

  • Continued symptoms for 6 to 12 months
  • Tear greater than 3 cm
  • Decrease in shoulder mobility

2. Progressive degeneration

Progressive degeneration means your tissue is breaking down as you age. Instead of a severe tear due to trauma, this involves the muscles and tendons in your rotator cuff becoming thin and worn down, leading to a tear due to weakness. 

The cause of progressive degeneration is not always known, but if you talk to your doctor about your medical and family history, they may be able to discover the cause. Sometimes rotator cuff tears occur more frequently within certain families due to genetics. 

Regardless, if you’re experiencing shoulder weakness, loss of function or pain, it’s important to see a doctor. If nothing is done to repair your rotator cuff, further damage,  arthritis or a frozen shoulder could result

3. Wear and tear of tendon

Similar to progressive degeneration, wear and tear of tendon is when your rotator cuff slowly weakens over time from overuse. It can also be a milder form of injury. However, unlike progressive degeneration, wear and tear is usually caused when your rotator cuff is being exerted day in and day out. 

For example, painters who paint ceilings, tennis players who do overhead serves and carpenters who work on overhead structures with their hands above their heads. While the rotator cuff allows you to lift your arm and rotate your shoulder, using it for hours on end every day strains the tendon. 

A lack of blood supply to your rotator cuff area can also cause injury, as it makes it difficult for small tears to repair on their own. In addition, if your shoulder has a bone spur (which tends to occur more often in older people), the bone overgrowth can slowly wear away the tissue. 

Let’s talk about your options

Here at The Kennedy Center, we understand every patient is unique. Your rotator cuff injury may look different than others and you need individualized care. If you have questions about symptoms you’re experiencing, rotator cuff tear causes or the most common rotator cuff injuries, contact us here.

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