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Rotator Cuff Related Pain

What is Rotator Cuff related pain?

Rotator cuff related pain is an umbrella term used to define shoulder pain that is not related to instability or frozen shoulder specifically. It is a broad term as it may be difficult to ascertain exactly why pain is present as many structures could contribute (eg. the rotator cuff itself, the bursae of the shoulder, the labrum).


Common symptoms of  rotator cuff related pain are:

  • Pain on specific movements

  • Difficulty laying on the affected side

  • Radiating pain down the shoulder

  • Limited range of motion due to pain

  • Difficulty with tasks involving lifting or reaching


It is worth noting that often people with shoulder pain will be sent for scans by the GP. This is worthy of discussion with physiotherapy as many findings on scans are normal and not necessarily the reason for pain.


A study by Barreto et al (2019) examined 123 people aged 18-77 who had a painful shoulder and they conducted scans of both shoulders including the non-painful shoulder. 


  • Tendinopathy was found in 92% in the painful shoulder and 88% in the non-painful shoulder

  • ACJ degeneration was present in 91% of painful shoulders and 89% of non-painful shoulders

  • Subacromial bursitis was found in 54% of painful shoulders and 56% of non-painful shoulders 

  • Labral lesions were found in 44% of the painful shoulder and 41% of non-painful shoulders

  • Partial thickness tears were found in 26% of painful shoulders and 20% of non-painful shoulders

  • Full thickness tears were found in 6% of painful shoulders and 1% of non-painful shoulders


As you can see these findings were present across both painful and non-painful shoulders in the same individuals. Therefore it raises the question as to whether these findings may actually be the reason for pain. Physiotherapy can help you understand your pain and scan findings and direct you towards management that can help reduce pain and restore function in your shoulder.

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