Understanding Rotator Cuff Injuries: Causes & Treatment

If you have been noticing stiffness and a dull, throbbing ache in your shoulder that sometimes keeps you awake at night, you could be suffering from a rotator cuff injury. This common concern often affects those who participate in work or leisure activities involving a repetitive overhead arm motion, such as painting, hammering, throwing a baseball, or swinging a tennis racket. Dr. Gregg A. Vagner treats patients throughout the Austin, TX, area and knows how debilitating this type of injury can be. A highly trained and trusted surgeon, Dr. Vagner can use conservative techniques or advanced, evidence-based methods to restore your comfort and mobility. 

How Does the Joint Become Injured?

The rotator cuff refers to the group of muscles and tendons that support the shoulder joint and hold the arm securely in place. When the shoulder is overworked, inflammation—in the form of tendonitis—can occur. In more severe cases, a muscle or tendon can be torn.

Healthy vs. injured rotator cuff
Both overuse and a sudden injury can cause pain and inflammation within the rotator cuff.

Not surprisingly, construction workers and athletes are especially prone to this type of injury. Additionally, those who are older than 40, or who are genetically predisposed to it, are likewise at higher risk of a rotator cuff injury.

Symptoms and Effects

Patients suffering from rotator cuff injuries typically feel a deep aching sensation in the affected shoulder, which is more pronounced at night when they lie on it. In some cases, the pain can be quite severe. Additional symptoms include stiffness, weakness, and a decreased range of motion. It might be particularly difficult to move the arm out away from the side.

An untreated rotator cuff injury can cause the joint to degenerate, which can result in permanent stiffness and weakness.

These injuries can occur because of gradual wear and progressive degeneration of a tendon, or they can result from a sudden single injury. Either way, if the pain and loss of function persists, a specialist should be consulted in a timely manner, since waiting can complicate and compromise treatment. An untreated rotator cuff injury can cause the joint to degenerate, and this can result in permanent stiffness and weakness in the shoulder.


The best way to prevent the occurrence or reoccurrence of rotator cuff injuries is to strengthen all the muscles involved with it. This means daily stretching and strengthening exercises of not only the muscles in the shoulder itself, but also the arm, chest, and back. Patients at risk for this injury may consider working with a physical therapist to increase their shoulder strength and minimize the chance of injury.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Dr. Vagner will begin with a thorough review of the patient's medical history and a physical examination. He may also utilize X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The treatment he will recommend depends on the extent of the injury, but he will always begin with the most conservative therapy possible. If he finds potentially reversible inflammation arising from a mild strain, he may prescribe rest, ice packs, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. 

On the other hand, if the cause is a torn rotator cuff, surgical repair is usually the only option. Patients who undergo this surgery can expect to wear a sling for four to six weeks, and complete recovery can take up to six months.

Begin Your Recovery

If you are experiencing persistent shoulder pain, prompt medical attention is your first line of defense. Contact our practice and schedule an appointment with Dr. Vagner by calling (512) 454-4561 or using our online form. You can visit us at one of our convenient locations in Austin and Cedar Park.

Gregg A. Vagner, M.D.

Gregg A. Vagner, M.D.

Dr. Gregg A. Vagner is a double board-certified surgeon specializing in hand, wrist, and elbow injuries. With three locations in greater Austin, TX, Dr. Vagner provides conservative care for:

To request an appointment with Dr. Vagner, please contact us online or call (512) 454-4561.

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