Many people have heard of athletes or workers injuring their rotator cuff or labrum, but few laypeople truly understand the anatomy of the shoulder joint, the causes of injury, and the treatments. Here’s a primer that may come in handy should you become one of the 3 million people in the U.S. with a rotator cuff injury each year.

The Labrum SITS in the shoulder socket

The labrum is the soft cartilage that cups the ball-shaped joint that connects your upper arm (humerus) and the glenoid.  (You can learn more about the labrum in this blog post about SLAP tears).  As with the rotator cuff, the labrum can be injured due to a one-time traumatic incident like a sports injury, work injury, or car crash, or through repetitive use, such as industrial work.

The rotator cuff is the group of four muscles and tendons that form the cuff.  They are, from the front of your shoulder to the back, the Supraspinatus, the Infraspinatus, the Teres Minor, and the Subscapularis.  Hence the popular acronym, SITS.

While the biceps tendon is not technically part of the rotator cuff, a tear of this tendon may occur independently of, or along with, a tear to the rotator cuff.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries can be the result of trauma or overuse.  In the industrial setting, many people who perform repeated overhead work, such as painters or carpenters, will incur damage to their shoulders over time.  Heavy lifting can also damage these tendons and muscles.

However, rotator cuff injuries can also be caused by trauma, such as falls, auto crashes, or sports injuries. Some people are more prone to rotator cuff injuries due to their anatomy and genetic makeup.


Most of the time, there is such significant pain or sleep disruption that people know there is something wrong.  Usually, doctors can arrive at a working diagnosis just by examining and performing a few simple motion and strength tests, but a diagnostic test such as an MRI can help pinpoint the area of injury and extent of damage.

Some common types of rotator cuff injuries are:

  • Impingement—where the tendons of the rotator cuff become inflamed and rub up against the bony structures of the shoulder in the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, such as the clavicle
  • Tears of the rotator cuff tendons—there are grades of tears from partial thickness to full thickness
  • Overuse tendinitis—this is the classic “overuse injury,” where the area becomes swollen and sore from repetitive use.


Most rotator cuff injuries can be improved with physical therapy exercises to strengthen the injured areas.  While not all people get complete relief, they are often able to alleviate most of the pain and gain enough movement and strength to be able to resume most of their activities.

In very serious tears, the dreaded full thickness tear, surgery is the only realistic option.  In those cases, the surgeon will use anchors and reinforcing material to sew back together the tendon(s) that is(are) torn. However, sometimes tears are so severe that repair is not possible, and a shoulder joint replacement is the best option.

In all cases, recovery from shoulder injuries is long and slow.  Even in successful surgeries and rehabilitations, many people report being awakened by shoulder pain, especially when rolling over onto that side of their body.

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, if you have been hit by a vehicle immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.

If you’ve been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything up front, and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day; contact Stephen now.