What does rotator cuff pain feel like?

A tear in your rotator cuff feels like sharp, stabbing pain.


When you tear your rotator cuff, lifting your arm or reaching for a cup in the cupboard can cause shoulder pain.

The rotator cuff is a series of muscles and tendons that control the movement of the arm while creating stability for the ball-and-socket joint of your shoulder. This structure allows the bones of your collarbone (clavicle), shoulder blade (scapula) and arm (humerus) to move in more directions than any other joint in your body.

Your rotator cuff can be damaged by:

  • repetitive motions causing an overuse injury
  • the wear and tear of age
  • injury

When the rotator cuff tears, shoulder movement becomes painful and your arm may become weak. You may feel pain radiate down the side of your arm or in the front of your shoulder. The pain may be most noticeable when you lift your arm overhead. You may have difficulty completing daily tasks like putting on a shirt or brushing your hair.

A torn rotator cuff may even cause pain when you are resting. Sleeping on the side of the injured shoulder may be nearly impossible.

If you have experienced shoulder pain for two weeks or longer, or if you felt a sudden snapping in your shoulder or have sudden arm weakness, you may have a torn rotator cuff. Since tendons cannot heal themselves, you should contact an orthopedic expert for care and treatment.

Call Affinity Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at (920) 996-3700 or request an appointment online.

Acension Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center

Madison Center at Ascension St. Elizabeth Hospital
1531 S. Madison St.
4th floor
Appleton, WI 54915
(920) 996-3700

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