The rotator cuff is a component located within the shoulder region of the body. It is composed of both tendons and muscles. Its purpose is to assist in the movement and stability of the shoulder.

Shoulder motion with rotator cuff (supraspinatus)

According to medical studies, issues with the rotator cuff are extremely common. These problems include the development of tendonitis, tears, and bursitis.

Inflammation may develop as a result of aging or overuse. Injuries – such as falls – may damage the rotator cuff.

Sporting activities, certain hobbies, and various jobs which include overhead motions on a regular basis have the potential to damage the rotator cuff.

The natural aging process may result in the wear of the rotator cuff and cause a tear.

The question is, “Can exercises and other treatments be effective enough to avoid surgery?”

In short, that answer is “yes”. Continue reading to learn more.

torn rotator cuff diagram

Rotator Cuff Tear

A tear in the rotator cuff is one of the most common culprits of pain and disability among individuals over the age of 18 within the United States. This type of injury drastically weakens the shoulder.

As a result, activities such as washing and styling the hair, showering, and getting dressed may prove to be exceptionally difficult and highly painful. The two main causes of this type of issues is direct injury and the process of degeneration.

The shoulder has three bones. These are the humorous, scapula, and clavicle. The shoulder is one of the ball and socket joints in the body where the head fits into a socket within the blade region.

The arm is actually kept within the socket by the rotator cuff, which is a group of muscles that combine to establish a covering of the top of the humorous.

It helps you perform lifts and rotations with the arm. If the tendons of the rotator cuff become torn, that tendon is no longer attached to the top of the humorous. The tears that may occur include a partial tear and a full-thickness tear.

The partial type of tear is also referred to as an “incomplete tear”. This will damage the tendon of the rotator cuff but will not result in a complete sever to the tendon. In a full-thickness type of tear, a “complete tear” results. This means that the tendon has been separated from the bone and a hole has developed within the tendon.

In most instances, a rotator cuff tear stems from wear and tear and the natural aging process; however, those that perform repetitive, overhead motions, participate in sports, and have jobs that require strain to the area are at highest risk for developing this issue.

woman with shoulder pain

Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms

When a rotator cuff tear develops, there are many different symptoms that may develop. The following outlines the most common of these symptoms:

  • When performing certain movements – such as lifting and rotations – of the arm, the sufferer may find that their arm is exceptionally weak.
  • When lifting the arm and lowering the arm, pain may occur.
  • When moving the arm and shoulder movements occur, cracking sensations may be experienced.
  • A dull, deep ache may be experienced in the shoulder.
  • It may become difficult to engage in certain activities. Examples include combing the hair and reaching around the back.
  • When resting at night, the shoulder may start to hurt. This pain is drastically increased if lying on the side where the rotator cuff injury occurred.

Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment

There are several medical, surgical, and non-surgical treatments for rotator cuff tears.

If you are experiencing chronic pain in the shoulder and/or arm, you should see your doctor immediately to confirm a diagnosis of rotator cuff tear.

Once you have a diagnosis, the doctor may recommend various treatments for the reduction of your symptoms and to promote healing.

These may include taking pain medications and receiving corticosteroid shots.

Unfortunately, these treatments may result in unfavorable side effects, such as further damage, limitations in daily functioning, and even the development of an opioid addiction.

If you want to experience quick healing without the adverse effects, it is best to opt for exercise, physical therapy, activity modification, rest, and similar treatments.

According to statistics, it has been estimated that approximately 80% of all people experience pain relief and optimized shoulder functionality with these treatments – this is especially true when patients opt for strengthening exercises and physical therapy to overcome a rotator cuff tear. In addition to this, non-surgical treatments offer the following advantages:

  1. There is a less of a chance that infection will develop in or near the area of the injury.
  2. Individuals report experiencing less stiffness and other types of discomfort when they opt for non-surgical treatments for rotator cuff tear.
  3. Due to not having to use anesthesia, patients do not have to worry about the complications associated with the medication.
  4. Recovery time has been found to be significantly reduced with non-surgical treatments.

Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery

If – for some reason – non-surgical treatments are ineffective are relieving the pain and/or stiffness associated with a rotator cuff tear, you may be encouraged to have surgery performed.

Additionally, if the injury is impacting your ability to engage in activities that you normally participate in – such as sports or working – surgery may be recommended.

If surgery is performed, it is done – in most instances – to reattach the tendon that has been ripped away from the upper arm bone. Of course, the course of the surgery will be based on the individual needs of the patient.

There are different surgical options for repairing a rotator cuff injury. Advancements in technology and medicine now allow for significantly less invasive operation.

In most instances, a patient will experience one of three surgical options. These are open repair, arthroscopic repair, and then, mini-open repair.

Immediately following surgery, pain will be experienced.

While opioids are often prescribed, please be cautious of the potential for addiction. You will also have to undergo rehabilitation; that is – simply put – an exercise program offered by a physical therapist that aids in promoting healing, mobility, and the basic functionality of the shoulder and affected arm.

Rotator Cuff Tear Exercises

If you are still reading this, it is likely that you are a person who has been detrimentally impacted by a rotator cuff tear. If so, the good news is, you are capable of regaining the strength in your shoulder and providing a boost to your range of motion.

While surgery may be the right option for some patients, it is best to opt for non-surgical options.

Specifically, exercising and physical therapy.

The following outlines the best movement exercises that you can do to quickly recover from a rotator cuff tear:

  1. Posterior Stretch – With this exercise, simply stand up tall and ensure that the shoulders are relaxed. You should hold the elbow of the affected arm with the hand of the opposite arm. You should then take the hand of the affected arm and place it over the body to the shoulder on the opposite side of the body. The uninjured arm’s hand should push up gently on the elbow it is holding in order to create a stretch. This exercise should be repeated with the other arm and should be done several times, per session.
  2. Pendulum Stretch – When performing this activity, you should stand on the side of a table or another steady structure or item with the hand of the unaffected arm holding on for stability. Lean forward and dangle the injured arm to dangle. Then, slowly move the arm back and forth. Immediately after, move it side to side and in circles. This should be done clockwise, counterclockwise, and repeat.
  3. Doorway Stretch – This is an easy rotator cuff tear exercise. Simply stand in a doorway and spread each of your arms out to the side. Be sure to grip each side of the doorway at shoulder height. Then, lean forward, ensuring that you only stretch very slightly forward. Make sure the back is kept straight and that – as you lean forward – you shift the weight of your body to the toes. You should immediately feel the front of the shoulder stretching. Lean back and repeat.

Let Us Help

Have you been diagnosed as having a rotator cuff tear? If so, avoid the expense and complication of potentially risky surgery and let us help.

Physical therapy and all subsequent exercises are designed to help strengthen the shoulder and arm, encourage healing, improve mobility, and optimize your general range of motion.

Not only does physical therapy help to save money, it helps to save you from “being put under the knife”. Not only we will work with you at our facility to encourage healing, we will provide you with guidance on home exercises that may be performed to encourage healing.

You may contact us at Back to Motion Physical Therapy today to learn more about how we can help you recover successfully from a rotator cuff tear.