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The rotator cuff is a term used to describe the tendons and muscles that support, stabilize and allow the arm to move up and down, as well as rotate. The four muscles include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor.

Injuries and inflammation to these muscles can cause pain and decreased range of motion. A torn rotator cuff muscle can severely limit movement and strength in the shoulder joint.

A common symptom of a rotator cuff injury is aching, and weakness in the shoulder when the arm is lifted overhead. A less severe injury may result in swelling, bleeding and bruising. This creates pain and inflammation as the swollen muscle pushes on the nearby bone. This can last several months before the muscle is entirely healed. Continued activity can increase the swelling, and lengthen the recovery time.

A torn rotator cuff is much more severe and more serious. The symptoms include pain, decreased range of motion, weakness and a deep ache. These symptoms are often worse at night or in the morning.

A tear needs to be seen and evaluated by a physician to determine if surgery is needed to repair the muscle. If large tears are left alone, they often lead to arthritis, due to continual rubbing and inflammation of the joint.

Surgical repair of a torn rotator cuff muscle can often be done with arthroscopic techniques, which use a very small incision, and the patient can go home the same day.

Recovery involves medication to reduce inflammation, and physical therapy exercises to increase range of motion and strength.

The most important part about treating a sore shoulder is to get the right diagnosis. The treatment of a strain is different that a tear, so see your physician if you have an injury to the shoulder that results in pain.

Stretching and strengthening the shoulder can help prevent injuries, and should be a part of a warm up and general conditioning program.