How Do I Know if I Have a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Only your doctor can definitively diagnose your rotator cuff tear. But there are several symptoms associated with this injury to be aware of.

See Rotator Cuff Injuries

Once you recognize the symptoms of a rotator cuff injury, visit a physician to get an accurate diagnosis. See Rotator Cuff Injuries: Diagnosis

This injury can cause dull, achy pain in the shoulder.1 If a traumatic event causes your tear, you may feel severe pain. Pain can also occur when lifting or reaching overhead and/or sleeping on your injured side.

You feel weakness in your arm, which makes some daily activities a challenge. For example, lifting weights overhead or throwing a baseball can be difficult—as are simple tasks, like brushing your teeth.

Locking or catching in your shoulder
It’s common to feel locking, catching, and even popping sensations in your shoulder.

See Rotator Cuff Injuries: Symptoms


Other frequently reported symptoms include shoulder stiffness, reduced range of motion, swelling, and tenderness.

Rotator cuff tears can happen immediately after a traumatic event, like after a fall, and symptoms can be immediate. In contrast, rotator cuff tears can also happen gradually, and symptoms get worse over time.

See Rotator Cuff Injuries: Causes and Risk Factors

When to see a doctor

There are several situations when experts recommend seeing a doctor, including:

  • If you’ve been in pain for more than a couple of weeks.
  • If you’ve experienced an abrupt loss of movement following an injury, then you should see a doctor right away.1

If you’ve been diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear, you should see set an appointment with an orthopedist specializing in the shoulder.1

An accurate diagnosis

Shoulder injury symptoms can overlap. For example, rotator cuff tears share some symptoms with other shoulder injuries, such as SLAP tears, a tear to the cartilage surrounding your shoulder’s socket, and subacromial bursitis, when your shoulder bursa, a sac of lubrication that helps with joint movement, becomes irritated. So if you don’t have a rotator cuff tear, you may have another shoulder issue.

Be cognizant of your symptoms and communicate them to your doctor, but leave it to the medical professional to make the diagnosis.

See Rotator Cuff Injuries: Diagnosis

Learn more:

How Do Rotator Cuff Injuries Occur?

Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery