What is your rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that form a cuff over the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons hold the arm in its joint and help the shoulder joint to move.
I have pain in my shoulder. Will physical therapy help?
Physical therapy is often recommended as an initial treatment for a rotator cuff tear.
In fact a recent study published in Bone and Joint Journal (“Treatment of nontraumatic rotator cuff tears: A randomised controlled trial with one-year clinical results” – January 2014) found that patients who received physical therapy alone for rotator cuff tears showed similar rates of improvement and patient satisfaction to those who received surgery combined with physical therapy.
The goal of physical therapy is to improve the function of the muscles that surround the shoulder. Most people only strengthen a few of the large muscles around the shoulder. Physical therapy targets the smaller, but important muscles around the shoulder that are commonly neglected. By strengthening these muscles, therapy can help compensate for damaged tendons and improve the mechanics of the shoulder joint.
It can be difficult to grasp the concept that the rotator cuff tear does not necessarily need surgery for pain to be resolved. However, the truth is that the vast majority of patients who have a rotator cuff tear will not need surgical treatment. Determining when surgery is necessary for a rotator cuff tear depends on a number of factors that you can discuss with your doctor.
When is surgery for my shoulder pain needed?
Your doctor may recommend surgery for a torn rotator cuff if your pain does not improve with non-surgical methods. Continued pain is the main indication for surgery. If you are very active and use your arms for overhead work or sports, your doctor may also suggest surgery.
Other signs that surgery may be a good option for you include:
- Your symptoms have lasted 6 to 12 months
- You have a large tear (more than 3 cm)
- You have significant weakness and loss of function in your shoulder
- Your tear was caused by a recent, acute injury
What does surgery look like?
Surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff most often involves re-attaching the tendon to the upper arm bone. A partial tear, however, may need only a trimming or smoothing procedure called a debridement. A complete tear within the thickest part of the tendon is repaired by stitching the two sides back together.
Will I need physical therapy after surgery?
Physical therapy is an essential part of the recovery process. The repaired rotator cuff is vulnerable to re-injury following shoulder surgery so it is important to work with a physical therapist to safely regain full use of the injured arm. Your physical therapist will design an individual treatment program which will guide you through your post-surgical rehabilitation. Your treatment program most likely will include a combination of exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff and other muscles that support the shoulder joint.
How long does recovery take?
The timeline for your recovery will vary depending on the surgical procedure and your general state of health, but full return to sports, heavy lifting, and other strenuous activities might not begin until 4 months after surgery (?). Your shoulder will be very susceptible to re-injury, so it is extremely important to follow the postoperative instructions provided by your surgeon and physical therapist.
Why choose Peak Performance Physical Therapy?
At Peak Performance Physical Therapy we have 14 years of specialized education and experience in treating people with rotator cuff tears. We will design a customized treatment plan to achieve your individual goals. Whether you elect to have surgery, or not, we will work with you to resolve your pain and restore your body’s normal function.
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