How Do Rotator Cuff Injuries Happen?

Each year, millions of people in the United States receive treatment for rotator cuff injuries. The rotator cuff consists of tendons and muscles that keep your shoulder in place. Injuries to all of these parts can range in severity, with many requiring surgical interventions. But how do these injuries happen? San Francisco orthopedic doctor James Chen, MD, tells you more about the most common causes of rotator cuff injuries and the treatment options that he can provide.

Man playing tennis grimaces in pain due to shoulder overuse injury

A Sudden Injury or Impact to the Shoulder

An acute injury can cause immediate damage to the rotator cuff.


A tear might happen after making a sudden, jerking motion as you try to lift something heavy. It can also happen during an activity that places a huge amount of strain or force on your shoulder.


An acute rotator cuff injury can occur if you land on your arm during a fall. It is more likely if you stretch your arm out as you are falling.

Repetitive Activities

Certain repetitive activities can cause degeneration in the rotator cuff. This type of injury usually occurs in people who are over the age of 40 or who have jobs or hobbies that require frequent raising and lowering of the arms, such as carpentry or painting.

Repetitive overhead activities or prolonged bouts of heavy lifting can damage or irritate the tendon. As you continue with these activities, small tears can develop in the rotator cuff. If you rest your shoulder, the tears can heal, but the repetitive movements do not allow healing to happen. Continued overuse can cause larger tears that lead to pain.

Repetitive activities can also lead to muscle fatigue, which reduces your shoulder strength, making it more likely to develop a tear.

Degeneration Due to Age

Rotator cuff injuries are more common in those over 40.

Bone spurs can be a concern. These are bony growths that can form at the top of the shoulder bone and rub against your tendon when you move your arm. This creates friction between the tendon and the bone, potentially leading to a partial or complete tear.

As you get older, you also have less blood flowing to the rotator cuff. To stay healthy, your muscles and tendons need a good degree of blood circulation, which brings them oxygen and nutrients. If there isn’t an adequate supply of blood to the tendons, they can tear without being able to repair themselves.

Tendons also lose water content as you grow older, causing stiffness and making them less able to manage stress. This can lead to thinning tendons, especially around the shoulder joint.

Some muscles of the rotator cuff experience atrophy with age as well. The subscapularis and supraspinatus are particularly susceptible to losing mass.

All of these factors contribute to decreased stability in the shoulder joint, decreased strength, and a higher risk of tears.

Renowned San Francisco orthopedic surgeon Dr. Chen often sees larger tears occur in older adults, with many of them requiring surgery.

Seek Treatment for Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries can affect all aspects of your life, making your favorite activities impossible to enjoy and even turning simple, everyday tasks like brushing your hair into a painful chore.

Experienced surgeon James Chen, MD, can offer the treatment you need. He specializes in minimally invasive procedures, including surgeries performed with arthroscopic techniques.

These techniques involve creating small incisions and using a tiny camera and instruments to perform the procedure. Not only does arthroscopic surgery take less time than open surgery, but it also results in a shorter recovery period for most patients.

Dr. Chen offers personalized treatment plans to all of his patients, ensuring they get quality care that caters to their exact needs. His patient-centered approach has earned him excellent patient testimonials. He is always there to answer questions, providing the face-to-face approach to care that everyone deserves.

If you are struggling with pain or lack of mobility in your shoulder, you don’t have to go another day without help. Turn to James Chen, MD, in San Francisco, CA, to get a personalized treatment plan. Call today!


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