The rotator cuff is a series of muscles and tendons whose function is to raise the shoulder forwards and outwards from our side.
Because of the shape of the shoulder and especially because of its great range of motion, the tendons that drive it are prone to changes of wear and tear and in the end, may degenerate and rupture. Falls and injuries also cause tears of these tendons.
Tears of the rotator cuff (shoulder joint tendons) are common and cause considerable pain and disability due to weakness and loss of mobility of the shoulder. Importantly, range of motion is not affected and if it is significantly reduced, it would be reasonable to suspect a different condition called frozen shoulder.
Rotator cuff tears are normally not hard to detect clinically and diagnosis is aided by plain x-ray of the shoulder which most often is quite normal. Ultrasound is very accurate imaging modality and occasionally an MRI scan is required.
Sometimes the pain can respond to physiotherapy if the tear is small but if the tear is larger or perhaps acute after an injury or fall, it may need to be repaired. Rotator cuff repair surgery is effective and usually results in improved power and much less pain. It is the nature of the shoulder that this surgery requires considerable physiotherapy to assist regaining both mobility and power.