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Why do I have Shoulder Pain when I lift my arm above my head?

There are many causes of shoulder pain in adults.  It’s very common for shoulder pain, especially pain with shoulder movement, to be from rotator cuff pathology.1 Rotator cuff tears are more common as we age, especially after age 45. By the time we’re 60 years old nearly half of us have a rotator cuff tear!2

The four muscles of your rotator cuff are called the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis muscles. They attach at the top of the upper arm bone which is called the humerus. The “head” of the humerus is the ball of the ball-and-socket joint that makes your shoulder. There is also a part of your shoulder blade called the glenoid that is the socket. The function is complex and serves to provide stability and motion to your shoulder.  These muscles harness the ball into the socket creating a stable point of rotation for active shoulder motion. They participate in shoulder movements like forward elevation of the arm, raising the arm to the side, and reaching overhead.

Rotator Cuff Tear in Columbus & New Albany, Ohio

A rotator cuff tear can be symptom-free, meaning you may not know there’s an issue. You will likely feel it at some point though. Symptoms of a tear are usually pain and loss of function in the shoulder. Weakness or trouble with shoulder movement is common. Pain over the outer muscle of the shoulder called the deltoid is also common. Pain is often present at night and may increase gradually over time unless it’s due to an identifiable injury. If your shoulder hurts after an acute injury you should see a doctor as soon as you can!

Orthopedic surgeons can likely figure out what’s wrong with a history and physical in the clinic. We may also see signs of a tear on an X-Ray. Many times, an MRI is needed to understand the specifics of the injury. MRI can also show other things in the shoulder that are invisible on an X-ray. When treating rotator cuff tears there are many things to think about. The plan is tailored to each patient and situation. Non-operative options like certain medicines, injections, or physical therapy may help. Sometimes, when that doesn’t work, the best plan might be surgery. Most often this means shoulder arthroscopy. It depends on the patient and the nature of their tear. A visit with an Orthopedic surgeon will help figure out what will work best for each patient.

If you feel that you have symptoms like those discussed here, schedule an appointment with JIS Orthopedics today. We would love to help you live without limits!


1Operative versus nonoperative treatment for the management of full-thickness rotator cuff tears: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29169957/. Accessed March 17, 2022.

2Asymptomatic Rotator Cuff Tears. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7026731/. Accessed March 17, 2022.