Symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff

Your shoulder and arm are causing you a lot of pain, and you want to figure out what’s going on. Rotator cuff tears are a common cause of pain among adults—the tears weaken your shoulder and make it hard to do everyday things. So, what does a torn rotator cuff feel like?

These are the most common symptoms:

  • Pain when you’re resting at night, especially if you’re lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain when you lift your arm as high or higher than your shoulder, or move it out to the side
  • Feeling weak when you’re lifting or rotating your arm
  • A crackling sensation when you move your shoulder in certain positions
  • Pain radiating down the side of your arm
  • Difficulty and pain when you comb your hair, get dressed, or reach behind your back
  • Pain when you turn your arm inward

The symptoms can come on suddenly or gradually. The symptoms of a sudden tear are usually the sensation of a tear or a snap, followed by severe pain shooting from your upper shoulder (front and back) down your arm toward your elbow.

Symptoms of a chronic or more gradual tear are pain when you’re trying to sleep at night, the more gradual weakness or decrease in arm motion, and gradual increase in pain when lifting weight or using your arm during certain sports.

So why doesn’t your shoulder look any different?

When a strain or tear happens, the inflammation causes swelling. But because the muscles and tendons in your shoulder are well below skin level, it’s hard to see or feel when they are swollen. Since the swelling happens in such a small space, it prevents your normal range of motion and causes pain.

If your shoulder pain is not at all affected by any shoulder motion, that pain might be the result of a different problem, and you should check with your physiatrist about other issues that might be going on.