Are pain location and physical examinations useful in locating a tear site of the rotator cuff?

Eiji Itoi, Hiroshi Minagawa, Nobuyuki Yamamoto, Nobutoshi Seki, Hidekazu Abe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Pain is the most common symptom of patients with rotator cuff tendinopathy, but little is known about the relationship between the site of pain and the site of cuff pathologic lesions. Also, accuracies of physical examinations used to locate a tear by assessing the muscle strength seem to be affected by the threshold for muscle weakness, but no studies have been reported regarding the efficacies of physical examinations in reference to their threshold. Hypothesis: Pain location is useful in locating a tear site. Efficacies of physical examinations to evaluate the function of the cuff muscles depend on the threshold for muscle weakness. Study Design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4. Methods: The authors retrospectively reviewed the clinical charts of 160 shoulders of 149 patients (mean age, 53 years) with either rotator cuff tears (140 shoulders) or cuff tendinitis (20 shoulders). The location of pain was recorded on a standardized form with 6 different areas. The diagnostic accuracies of the following tests were assessed with various thresholds for muscle weakness: supraspinatus test, the external rotation strength test, and the lift-off test. Results: Lateral and anterior portions of the shoulder were the most common sites of pain regardless of existence of tear or tear location. The supraspinatus test was most accurate when it was assessed to have positive results with the muscle strength less than manual muscle testing grade 5, whereas the lift-off test was most accurate with a threshold less than grade 3. The external rotation strength test was most accurate with a threshold of less than grade 4+. Conclusion: The authors conclude that pain location is not useful in locating the site of a tear, whereas the physical examinations aiming to locate the tear site are clinically useful when assessed to have positive results with appropriate threshold for muscle weakness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-264
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006 Feb


  • Pain
  • Physical examination
  • Rotator cuff tear
  • Rotator cuff tendinitis


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