Performing a rotator cuff tear test at home is an excellent first step in figuring out whether you may have torn your rotator cuff. Below, I’ll show you a variety of simple tests for rotator cuff tears that you can perform easily with the help of a friend.

If you’re concerned you have torn your rotator cuff, performing these tests will give you a little more information should you need to go to a chiropractor, PT, or orthopedic MD for treatment. They also give you an idea about what rotator cuff muscle may be affected without getting an MRI right away.

It’s important to remember that my intention isn’t for you to self diagnose. Rather, my goal to educate you a bit since rotator cuff tears can be stressful and scary. Sometimes worrying and wondering about them is the worst part and unnecessary because there are a number of other issues that can cause shoulder pain besides rotator cuff tears.

Rotator Cuff Muscles

What is the rotator cuff? The rotator cuff is simply a term describing a collection of four important muscles in each shoulder. The four muscles that make up your rotator cuff are:

  1. Supraspintus
  2. Infraspintus
  3. Teres minor
  4. Subscapularis

The rotator cuff’s main purpose is to simply stabilize the shoulder joint, a ball and socket joint, mostly during movement. Since your shoulder has such a large range of motion, a healthy rotator cuff is really important. All four muscles of the rotator cuff are in the back of your shoulder and upper back. In this region, they attach to the scapula (shoulder blade) but they also attach to the front of your shoulder (humeral head.) Most cases of rotator cuff pain are in these locations, and yours probably is too.

If you have shoulder pain from a rotator cuff injury, you’re not alone. One study shows that rotator cuff injuries are the most common injury to the shoulder and are responsible for 4.5 MILLION visits to a physician per year!

Many rotator cuff injuries result from trauma or injury, but it’s also important you know that they can deteriorate slowly as well. Age is also a factor in rotator cuff injuries and they are more common in older individuals.

How To Perform Rotator Cuff Tear Tests At Home

These tests are ones that any chiropractor should know and use when examining your shoulder. They may vary slightly from provider to provider because there are a few ways to test each rotator cuff muscle. Despite this, they’re all looking to assess the strength of your rotator cuff muscles. Let’s cover a few notes about how to do them:

  • Perform each test on your good shoulder first. This gives you a baseline of what kind of strength you can expect on the injured shoulder if your muscle has normal strength. What you’re really looking for is a significant difference in strength from side to side.
  • Just because you have pain when performing the test doesn’t mean your rotator cuff is torn. Your injured shoulder is usually going to have some pain with these tests.
  • Muscle weakness in an injured shoulder is not always a sign your rotator cuff is torn. Other shoulder injuries can cause weakness as well, however, these at-home rotator cuff tests will give more information in solving the puzzle of what’s causing your shoulder pain.
  • At home rotator cuff tests are not a substitute for seeing a doctor. It’s usually a good idea to follow-up with a doctor who is good at diagnosing and treating shoulder pain.

Supraspinatus Muscle Rotator Cuff Tear Test at Home

Teres Minor Muscle Rotator Cuff Tear Test at Home

Infraspinatus Muscle Rotator Cuff Tear Test at Home

Subscapularis Muscle Rotator Cuff Tear Test at Home

Do I need to Have Surgery for a Torn Rotator Cuff?

This answer may surprise you, but no, surgery isn’t always necessary if you have a torn rotator cuff. Rotator cuff tears, as with other types of injuries fall on a spectrum of severity. Sometimes rotator cuff muscles can completely rupture, but most times they are only partial-thickness tears.

I almost always recommend you try and rehab your shoulder with conservative care like chiropractic care or physical therapy before deciding on surgery. The body can do amazing things to heal with time and when you help it along a little bit. Surgery can also do amazing things, and if I feel it’s likely a patient needs surgery I won’t hesitate to refer them. However, many cases of shoulder pain due to rotator cuff tears can improve significantly without surgery.

Treatment for Rotator Cuff Injuries Besides Surgery

Remember, each case is unique and I can’t give you advice on your shoulder without examining it first. However, other treatments that I recommend for rotator cuff injuries include:

Many rotator cuff tears will improve with these treatments and time, which is great. It allows you to avoid the costs and risks of surgery which isn’t always guaranteed to be effective either. Remember, there are many factors that predict whether surgery will be successful for your rotator cuff tear. You can read about these factors in the study below.

Prognostic Factors for Successful Recovery After Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair: A Systematic Literature Review

If you’re concerned you may have a rotator cuff tear and want to have it examined and try some of the above treatments, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask me some questions. I’ll always give you my honest opinion and direct you to the right provider if our office can’t help.

Dr. Jason Williams DC is a chiropractic physician practicing at AccessHealth Chiropractic in Cary, NC. He treats neuromusculoskeletal pain and injuries using chiropractic manipulation, dry needling, acupuncture, rehab exercise strategies, and other supportive therapies. Primary areas of focus include back pain, neck pain, muscular pain, extremity pain, and orthopedic injuries. Dr. Williams is experienced in treating athletes, especially those in the CrossFit, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and MMA community.

If you’re interested in whether he or another AccessHealth provider can help you, navigate to our contact page or follow this link to request an appointment.