Rotator cuff

Synonyms: Shoulder girdle, Shoulder injury

Medical Specialties: Orthopedics, Physical medicine & rehab

Clinical Definition

The rotator cuff refers to parts of the capsule of the shoulder joint, reinforced by four tendons that connect to the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis muscles. The rotator cuff helps keep the upper arm (humerus) stable in the shoulder socket. 

In Our Own Words

The rotator cuff is made of four tendons that cover the head of the humerus, or upper arm bone. This protective cuff keeps the arm stabilized in the shoulder socket and helps lift and rotate the arms.


The rotator cuff can degenerate and tear with age or excessive exercise, either partially or completely. The cuff can also tear during a fall or while lifting something heavy with a jerking motion. Olympic swimmers and baseball pitchers are prone to injuries of the rotator cuff, and full tears can be quite painful. Treatment options include rest, modification of activity, physical therapy exercises, steroid injections and surgery.

Relevant Conditions
Common Types
  • Partial tear
  • Full-thickness tear (tendon detaches from bone)
Share this article
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Rotator Cuff Tendonitis." Diseases and Conditions 2013. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. “Surgical Treatment Options” May 2011. Accessed Sept. 2013.
  • American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. "Rotator Cuff Tears." OrthoInfo May 2011. Accessed Aug. 2013.
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