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How common are rotator cuff tears?

Dr. Howard J. Luks, MD
Sports Medicine Specialist

Rotator cuff tears, whether partial or complete are relatively common. Their incidence increases with age. Most patients don't ever recall an injury which led to their rotator cuff tear. Some rotator cuff tears are post traumatic in nature. This simply means that you suffered an injury which led to the rotator cuff tear. Most rotator cuff tears, however, are attritional in nature where the rotator cuff tissue simply wore out. A great analogy for this is the front of your knee on your favorite pair of blue jeans. One day you look down there is a hole on the front of your blue jeans. You didn't tear it or rip it, the tissue or the fabric simply wore out. Our rotator cuff in many respects is not different.

True rotator cuff tears are thought to be more common with increases in age. Under the age of 70, the prevalence is relatively low, about 30 percent. From ages 71 to 80, the incidence increases to approximately 60 percent, and over 80 years, it jumps to 70 percent. However, in younger physically active individuals, overuse injuries like tendonitis and impingement are most often the causes of shoulder pain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.