A rotator cuff tear is a very common injury in adults, with almost 2 million Americans visiting their doctor in 2008 alone due to rotator cuff problems. The rotator cuff is a team of four muscles that form together into tendons. These muscles and tendons help to keep your humerus, or arm bone, in place and attached in the shoulder joint. Rotator cuff tears cause shoulder pain that can make even the most simple daily tasks painful – like reaching for a bottle of shampoo in the shower. So if you have shoulder pain, how do you know specifically whether or not it is a rotator cuff tear? Here are 3 simple home tests you can use to check and see if you’ve torn your rotator cuff.

1. Drop Arm Sign

The Drop Arm test assesses weakness in the supraspinatus muscle, which is one of the muscles that makes up the rotator cuff. With this test you will likely need a helper. You can begin from a sitting or standing position, with your injured arm extended straight out (to the side) from your body, if possible. If you are not able to raise the fully extended arm straight out (to a 90 degree angle) on your own, have your helper raise the injured arm to 90 degrees. Now try to slowly adduct, or lower, the still-extended arm back to your side. The key is to lower the arm in a very controlled manner. If you have a rotator cuff tear, lowering the arm from 90 degrees will be painful and difficult to complete in a controlled manner.

2. Lateral Jobe Test

The Lateral Jobe Test is actually one of the most reliable tests for rotator cuff injury, and you may need an assistant again to help administer this test. This test also looks for weakness in the supraspinatus muscle. Begin by raising the extended injured arm to 90 degrees, just like in the drop arm test. Then rotate your arm so that your palm faces backwards and your thumb is facing down. Now your helper will apply a downward force on that arm, while you resist that force. If you find that resisting the downward force is difficult and painful – that is almost a sure sign of a rotator cuff injury.

3. Lift Off Test

This test specifically tests for scapular instability or for a lesion of the subscapularis muscle. In this test you begin by placing the injured arm behind your back, with the back of your hand resting on your mid lumber spine (your lower back). Now your assistant will apply a force to the palm of your hand, and your goal is to push back against them. If you feel pain or weakness when trying to push back, that is a sign of rotator cuff injury.

With these three tests in mind, hopefully you can determine the source of your pain and begin to seek treatment. If it is a rotator cuff tear, remember the #1 biggest mistake that prevents the proper healing of a rotator cuff tear: ignoring it. If you know you have a torn rotator cuff or even suspect it, seek treatment now rather than later, to prevent a small problem from developing into a big one. Physical therapy is a great option to consider, as early intervention and treatment can keep someone with a torn rotator cuff out of the operating room. It can also reduce or even prevent the need for long-term medications and cortisone shots to treat the injury and pain. In the meantime, avoid exacerbating the injury with prolonged usage of your shoulder. And of course, the best treatment is natural healing with a physical therapist or physician.

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