Rotator cuff: acute injuries

Estimated Duration: 
1 hour

Rotator cuff pathology comprises a wide range of different problems. At one end of the spectrum is a patient with acute rotator impingement. These patients may have an anatomically normal rotator cuff and have symptoms which have been provoked by an acute bout of activity. In this situation, the problem will generally settle with a short period of rest.

At the other end of the spectrum are patients who have an acute injury to their shoulder, and present with significant pain, weakness and a loss of function. These patients may have an acute, full-thickness rotator cuff injury. This generally requires surgical management to regain satisfactory function (and pain-relief).

In between these extremes is a range of very varied pathology including more chronic cuff impingement, partial thickness tears or tendinopathy and full-thickness rotator cuff tears. These tears can be of varying sizes, orientations and can affect different tendons. The wide range of pathology is one reason why there is very little good-quality evidence to guide treatment decisions.

Objectives of this course:

  • Understand classic symptoms and signs of rotator cuff pathology on history and examination.
  • Gain knowledge of the appropriate imaging investigations for a patient presenting with a rotator cuff injury.
  • Be aware of the variables that can impact decision making with regards to the management of a rotator cuff injury.


Once you have completed this short course and quiz, please click 'submit' where you will be taken to the results page. From here you can print your certificate for 1 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hour.


This content was created by Dr Helen Joyce Fulcher MBChB, DipPaed, PGCertHSc(Sports Med), in July 2016, and updated by Dr Grace Lee, FRNZCGP, MBCHB, BSc, DipTravMed in 2021.

The material is presented by the Goodfellow Unit (GFU), an accredited continuing medical education/ continuing professional development (CME/CPD) provider for the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and functions under a tripartite agreement between the Goodfellow Foundation, the College and the University of Auckland. The Unit is located within the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, and within the School of Population Health.


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