Rotator Cuff Tear

What are Rotator Cuffs, and Why Are They Important?

Rotator cuffs are a group of deep muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. They not only enable us to move and rotate our shoulder but also play a crucial role in maintaining the stability of the shoulder joint. These muscles play a pivotal role in various daily activities, from reaching overhead to lifting objects.

There are 4 rotator cuff muscles and tendons, these include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.

What are the causes of rotator cuff tears?

The causes of rotator cuff tears can be broadly classified into degenerative and traumatic.

Degenerative tears result from the progressive wear and tear of the tendon over time. These tears are common, and their incidence increases with age. Certain demographics, such as specific occupations and sporting activities, may predispose individuals to such tears. Patients with this condition often experience a gradual onset of dull, aching pain around the shoulder or arm. If left untreated, it may lead to complications such as stiffness and weakness over time.

Traumatic tears can occur following a single injury, such as a fall. Patients with traumatic tears typically present with an acute onset of severe pain and may find it difficult to raise their arm. In these circumstances, seeking medical attention quickly is crucial, as early surgical repair may offer optimal outcomes.

What are the symptoms of rotator cuff tears?

Recognizing the signs of a rotator cuff tear is essential for timely intervention. Individuals with degenerative tears often experience persistent, dull, aching pain in the shoulder or arm, exacerbated by certain movements or activities. In contrast, traumatic tears present with acute, intense pain following the inciting event, accompanied by weakness and limited range of motion. Other symptoms may include swelling, tenderness, and audible clicking or popping sounds during shoulder movements.

How Are Rotator Cuff Tears Diagnosed?

Diagnosing rotator cuff tears involves a thorough assessment by a medical professional, including a review of symptoms, physical examination, and imaging studies. While physical tests like the "drop arm" or "empty can" tests can help evaluate shoulder function and strength, radiological imaging techniques such as X-rays, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provide detailed insights into the extent and severity of the tear.​

What Are the Treatments for Rotator Cuff Tears?

Available treatments include physiotherapy, activity modifications, pain control, injections, and surgery. The treatment algorithm is often individualized based on various factors, such as the type of tear (degenerative or traumatic), severity of the tear (partial vs. complete, size, retraction, tendon quality), and the patient's symptoms (duration and severity).​ In many cases, especially for small, low-grade partial tears, non-operative treatment with physiotherapy is recommended as the first line of treatment. On the other hand, acute traumatic tears or large complete tears might necessitate surgical repair for recovery.

What Are The Surgical Treatments for Rotator Cuff Tears?

For cases of rotator cuff tears that are severe or fail to respond to conservative treatments, surgical intervention may be necessary to restore function and alleviate symptoms. 

Rotator cuff repair surgery is a common procedure aimed at reattaching the torn tendon to its original position on the humerus bone and promoting healing.

Rehabilitation and recovery after rotator cuff repair surgery

Following rotator cuff repair surgery, a structured rehabilitation program is essential for optimizing outcomes and preventing complications. Physical therapy plays a crucial role in the recovery process, focusing on restoring range of motion, strengthening the shoulder muscles, and improving functional abilities gradually.​​​

Are All Rotator Cuff Tears Repairable?

While most rotator cuff tears are amenable to surgical repair, certain cases may be deemed irreparable due to factors such as chronicity, tissue quality, and tear size. In such instances, alternative surgical options like tendon transfers or shoulder joint replacement may be considered to alleviate symptoms and restore shoulder function. Your orthopaedic surgeons will evaluate each case individually, weighing the risks and benefits of various treatment approaches.


Rotator cuff tears are a common source of shoulder pain and dysfunction, affecting individuals of all ages and activity levels. By understanding the underlying causes, recognizing typical symptoms, and exploring available treatment options, individuals can take proactive steps towards managing this condition effectively. Whether opting for conservative measures or undergoing surgical intervention, seeking timely medical evaluation and guidance is paramount for achieving optimal outcomes and reclaiming an active, pain-free lifestyle.

Driven by compassion, decades of experience in orthopaedic care, and modern technology, we strive to provide patient-centric care by alleviating pain, restoring mobility, and improving the quality of life for all our patients. At Orthopaedic and Hand Surgery Partners, where compassion meets experience, you can trust in us. 

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820 Thomson Road #06-08
Mount Alvernia Medical Centre A
Singapore 574623

Monday to Friday: 0900 - 1730hrs
Closed on Saturday, Sunday & Public Holidays