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Weak Arm? It Could Be a Problem With Your Rotator Cuff

Weak Arm? It Could Be a Problem With Your Rotator Cuff

Changing a light bulb, waving hello, putting away groceries — these are just a few of the simple, everyday tasks that rely on a healthy rotator cuff. If you’re experiencing weakness in an arm and shoulder, it may point toward damage in these soft, connective tissues.

To get to the bottom of your arm weakness, Dr. Schell of William Schell, MD, focuses on rotator cuff issues that lead to this symptom in this month’s blog post.

The role of your rotator cuff

To understand how a rotator cuff issue can lead to weakness in your arm, it’s important to take a quick dive into the anatomy of this area.

Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint that brings three bones together:

  1. Your upper arm bone (humerus)
  2. Your shoulder blade (scapula)
  3. Your collarbone (clavicle)

To keep your upper arm in the socket in your shoulder blade, you have a group of tissues called the rotator cuff. These tissues are formed by four muscles that run from your chest and shoulder and come together as tendons that wrap around the ball portion of your joint (the top of your upper arm bone).

Not only does your rotator cuff help maintain the connection of the ball and socket in your shoulder, it powers your ability to raise and rotate your arm. 

Rotator cuff problems that lead to arm weakness

There are a few rotator cuff problems that can lead to weakness in your arm, and we’re going to focus on the more common, which include:


If you use your shoulders a good deal (perhaps you’re a painter or you enjoy racket sports), you’re more at risk for overuse issues in your rotator cuff, namely tendonitis. With rotator cuff tendonitis, the tissue develops tiny tears and becomes inflamed, which can compromise its strength and lead to weakness in your arm. 

Rotator cuff tear

Each year in the United States, about two million people seek help for a rotator cuff tear. As the name implies, this is a condition in which the tissue tears, either partially or completely, around your upper arm bone. As you can imagine, this type of injury can affect your arm function, leaving you unable to perform certain movements, such as raising your arm above shoulder level.

It’s worth mentioning that each of these rotator cuff issues is often accompanied by pain and discomfort.

Restoring strength to your arm

If we find that a rotator cuff issue is causing your arm weakness, we discuss the best steps toward reestablishing arm strength. If you have tendonitis or a partial tear, we may be able to treat the problem conservatively with medications, rest, and physical therapy.

If you have a significant tear in the tissue, surgery might be your best option for restoring full use of your arm.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, we first need to determine whether your arm weakness is related to your rotator cuff. For expert diagnosis, contact our New York City office — on the Upper West Side on Columbus Circle — to schedule an appointment.

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