How to Tell If You've Torn Your Rotator Cuff?

Repeating the same movement while engaging in sporting activities can take a toll on your joints. Your shoulder is especially vulnerable to injury because repeated movements can tear the muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder socket. You may also end up dealing with a torn rotator cuff because of bone spurs in the shoulder, falling, and lifting a heavy object. The injury can be extremely painful and even keep you from playing sports or performing other tasks. You can manage your injury better if you can recognize the tear early. So, how do you know if you have a torn rotator cuff? Pain is the obvious sign, but there are other indicators as well.

Signs You Have a Torn Rotator Cuff

Once you have torn your rotator cuff, you will obviously be in a lot of pain. Here are some common signs:

  • Pain: Be ready to experience excruciating pain once you have torn your rotator cuff. You will experience it over the outside of your upper arm and the shoulder. The pain usually becomes worse when you try to perform overhead activities – the pain is likely to become worse at night. Sometimes, you experience pain further down the arm from your shoulder, which often gives an impression that there is a problem with the arm muscle. It is usually the result of a torn rotator cuff that also affects the nerves located in that area.
  • Limited range of motion: It is another common sign of a rotator cuff injury. You will not be able to move your shoulder and arm in the normal way after sustaining a rotator cuff injury. Activities like cleaning your teeth, brushing your hair, and getting dressed can cause a lot of pain. You may also notice a significant reduction in the range of motion when carrying small things, such as a book or plate, especially at raised levels.
  • Tenderness and stiffness: Along with pain, you will also notice a degree of stiffness in your shoulder, which is of course the reason why you experience a reduction in the range of motion. The stiffness becomes worse when you stop using your arm to manage pain. It is also possible to hear snapping or clicking noises when moving the sore shoulder area.

How to Tell It by Yourself

It is always a good idea to see a healthcare provider to confirm that you have a rotator cuff tear or not. How do you know if you have a torn rotator cuff? It is possible to be a bit sure about your injury by doing the following:

  • Find a mirror and stand right in front of it. Now, raise your arms slowly in front of your body. You are likely to have a torn rotator cuff if you fail to raise it above your shoulder height.
  • Stay in the same position and then raise your arm to your side. If it causes pain or you fail to take your hand to the shoulder height, it is time to see a medical professional.
  • While in front of a mirror, bend your elbows to make a V-shape with your hands above your shoulders. Now, turn your thumb inward and move toward the ground. Then, slowly lower your arm to the returning position. If you feel pain while performing the move, you are most likely dealing with a rotator cuff injury.
  • Ask a friend to stand in front of you. Now, raise your hands and ask your friend to push down on them. You should resist the push. If you can do it without experiencing any pain, you probably do not have a rotator cuff tear.

When to See a Doctor

How do you know if you have a torn rotator cuff? It is important to know some tips to identify the issue, but you should see your doctor immediately to ensure you do not end up aggravating your rotator cuff injury. Be sure to talk to a healthcare provider if you experience a sudden loss of motion after sustaining an injury. You should also see a shoulder specialist if your pain persists for more than a few weeks.

Diagnosis at Doctor's Office

Your doctor will usually start by performing a physical exam. They will move your shoulder and press on different parts to see if there is a change in the range of motion or strength. They will also test the strength of the muscles surrounding your shoulder and arm. They may also order imaging tests to confirm a diagnosis. For instance:

  • They may ask for X-rays. They order this test mainly to confirm if there are bone spurs or other issues causing the pain. X-rays are not going to help confirm a rotator cuff tear though.
  • They may order an ultrasound test. It involves using sound waves to get images of the structures inside your body. It helps produce images of soft tissues, such as tendons and muscles, so makes it possible for your healthcare provider to check the structures of your shoulder.
  • They may also order MRIs. Magnetic resonance imaging involves using radio waves along with a strong magnet to get clearer images of different structures within the shoulder joint. This will help confirm if you really have a rotator cuff tear or not.