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Different Types of Rotator Cuff Injuries

Different Types of Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries are a significant cause of shoulder pain in the United States. Every year, about 2 million Americans seek medical treatment for damaged rotator cuffs.

Your rotator cuff can be damaged in different ways, and the treatment you need depends on the type of injury you have. As a leading orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Sugar Land and Houston, Texas, J. Michael Bennett, MD, uses state-of-the-art techniques to diagnose and treat rotator cuff injuries. Here’s how he can help you find relief for your symptoms.

Rotator cuff anatomy 101

Your shoulder is made up of three bones: the upper arm (humerus) bone, the collarbone (clavicle), and the shoulder blade (scapula). The top of the humerus is rounded and designed to fit into a shallow socket in your shoulder blade. 

Your rotator cuff is an interconnected collection of muscles and tendons designed to support your shoulder, facilitate normal shoulder movement, and keep the “ball” of the shoulder joint inside its socket.

On top of your shoulder, there’s a small sac called a bursa. This sac helps your shoulder glide smoothly when you raise or rotate your arm. If your rotator cuff is damaged, this sac can also become irritated and painful.

Rotator cuff injuries

Rotator cuff injuries happen when the tendons are torn or damaged. Some injuries happen when you fall on an outstretched arm. Still, many rotator cuff injuries happen due to repetitive movements of your shoulder, including activities that involve throwing or reaching.


There are several types of rotator cuff injuries.

Full-thickness tears

Also called complete tears, a full-thickness tear goes through a tendon and sometimes separates the tendon from the bone. This type of tear causes the most damage and the most painful symptoms.

Partial-thickness tears

A partial-thickness tear (or incomplete tear) involves part of the tendon but doesn’t go all the way through.

Acute tears

Acute tears happen as the result of an abrupt injury, like a fall, a sports injury, or a car accident. They can also happen if you lift something extremely heavy or use a jerking motion when lifting. Often, acute tears happen alongside other shoulder injuries, like fractures or dislocations.

Degenerative tears

Degenerative tears happen over time as the tendon is strained from repetitive use or even age-related changes in the shoulder joint. These tears become more common with age, and they often occur in the arm you use the most. Underlying medical issues, like diabetes, also increase the likelihood of these tears.


Rotator cuff injuries affect your full range of shoulder movements. If your rotator cuff is torn or damaged, you’ll probably have pain when lifting an object or rotating your arm. Pain may be sharp, but it’s often described as a deep, dull ache.

Activities like brushing your hair, getting dressed, or reaching for objects can be very painful. You may have a lot of discomfort if you try to sleep on your side.

Pain is often accompanied by other symptoms, like:

Without proper medical care, rotator cuff tears can worsen over time. Dr. Bennett tailors treatment based on the type of tear you have, your lifestyle and activity level, underlying medical issues, and other factors to help restore shoulder function.

Relieve your shoulder pain

Don’t ignore your shoulder pain. Book an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Bennett today so your shoulder can start the healing process.

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