Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ


I've been having some shoulder pain that the doctor thinks is a rotator cuff tear. After all kinds of tests in the office, I'm being sent for an MRI. Is this really necessary after all that testing? Isn't there one test that works best?


The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that slip over the shoulder like an envelope. One or more of the tendons can develop a tear or tendonitis. It isn't always easy to identify which one(s) are involved.

Shoulder pain patterns aren't specific for rotator cuff tears (RCTs). For example pain can occur in the front, side, or back of the shoulder with a RCT. Since there aren't a lot of pain nerve endings in the rotator cuff itself, doctors think most of the pain comes from the bursa getting pinched.

The doctor can apply specific tests for each tendon to help narrow down the problem area. MRI or arthroscopic exam is really needed to show what is wrong and the extent of the damage. This information will help the doctor plan the best treatment approach.

Eiji Itoi, MD, et al. Are Pain Location and Physical Examination Useful in Locating a Tear Site of the Rotator Cuff? In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. February 2006. Vol. 34. No. 2. Pp. 256-264.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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