A rotator cuff tear occurs when tendons near the shoulder joint are injured and tear or, in extreme cases, separate from the shoulder bone, according to Jonathan Cluett for About.com. Pain and weakness are common symptoms of rotator cuff tears.
The rotator cuff is four tendons that connect four muscles, the infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor, to the shoulder and upper arm bones, states MedicineNet. The rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder joint.
Overuse of the rotator cuff makes it more susceptible to injury, notes WebMD. Therefore, rotator cuff tears commonly affect athletes such as swimmers, pitchers and tennis players. Causes of rotator cuff tears include falls and lifting heavy objects. Rotator cuff tears can occur gradually or suddenly; time is usually all that is needed for healing.