The rotator cuff has four small muscles that control the shoulder. We often see a number of patients come into our office with a variety of shoulder injuries and pain. Tears in the rotator cuff are common, and several people jump to the conclusion that they will need surgery. The term “tear” is not always accurate when it comes to rotator cuff injuries. Rotator cuff tears are degenerative, which means the tissue in the shoulder is worn out. Many of our patients have shoulder pain, or MRI’s that show degenerative rotator cuff tears. The good news is we can help! At Layton Physical Therapy, we provide a series of non-surgical measures, including physical therapy and dry needling, to help the shoulder heal and provide you with pain relief.
What is the Rotator Cuff?
The rotator cuff has 4 muscles that are responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint. The injuries to the rotator cuff are common as the shoulders are one of the most-used joints and muscles within the body. Rotator cuff tears can come later in life, but they can come at younger ages as individuals can exert their muscles quickly through exertion. Athletes and heavy laborers and seniors are the individuals commonly affected with rotator cuff injuries. Even something as basic as walking the dog and having them pull hard on the leash can cause strain on the shoulder. This injury normally causes severe pain and decreases a patient’s ability to use their arm.
The most important job of the rotator cuff is to provide stability to the shoulder joint. A rotator cuff tear is considered full-thickness or partial-thickness based on the severity of the tear. Most patients with rotator cuff pain deal with acute or chronic problems:
- Acute rotator cuff tear. An acute tear is a recent injury to the rotator cuff. Lifting heavy objects is one of the main reasons an acute rotator cuff tear can occur.
- Chronic rotator cuff tear. These tears are slow to develop and occur due to repeated action of the arm. Throwing balls for years and repeated actions by moving the arm above shoulder level.
Rotator cuff tears can end up as a result of strain or tears within the biceps tendon and irritation to other muscles.
Symptoms of Shoulder Pain
How does it feel when you have shoulder pain? The majority of people dealing with rotator cuff pain will feel pain over the top of the shoulder or down the outside of the arm. Loss of motion and shoulder weakness is the other symptoms individuals deal with as they struggle with rotator cuff pain. Patients often feel like the shoulder is heavy or weak. The tears in the shoulder can keep patients from being able to handle their daily activities and can struggle to even raise their arm.
Diagnosing Shoulder Pain
If you are struggling with shoulder pain, Layton Physical Therapy can help! Our first step will be reviewing your health history, examining your shoulder and performing several tests on the shoulder to identify the source of pain.
Is Surgery the Only Treatment for Rotator Cuff Injuries?
There is very little evidence in scientific literature to support shoulder surgery as the only treatment method for degenerative, atraumatic rotator cuff tears. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery has conducted several studies on rotator cuffs, and have found that some tears can grow larger, while others stay the same without treatment. You may have had rotator cuff surgery, but the rotator tear can still struggle to heal, leaving you with consistent pain.
Physical Therapy Treatment for Rotator Cuff Injury
After a rotator cuff injury is diagnosed, we will work with you to create a manageable recovery that prevents surgery. We work hard to restore your range of motion, coordination, and muscle strength. Our goal is to help you get back to the game of life and start enjoying your regular activities once again. If surgery is inevitable, we will help you before and after the surgery to ensure your shoulder is healthy. Early treatment will help to speed up the healing process and can prevent additional pain.
Layton Physical Therapy will create a treatment program that is designed toward your personal goals and your health. We will be next to you every step of the way as we guide you through your postsurgical rehabilitation. If you have a specific sport you continue to play, we will create gentle range-of-motion exercises that strengthen your shoulder once again so you can resume participation in sports you enjoy. There is no set timeline for recovery as it does depend on your current state of health and the extent of damage your rotator cuff. Some patients need at least 4 months after surgery to resume strenuous activities and return to sports.
Why You Need Physical Therapy for Rotator Cuff Pain
Can you prevent an injury to a rotator cuff? A physical therapist will be able to decrease your risk of worsening your shoulder injury pain. We will help you learn how to care for the shoulder to prevent additional tears and pains to the rotator cuff. Our goal is to help you improve your rotator cuff, but to also help you avoid harmful positions that could lead to additional rotator cuff pain or tears. Contact Layton Physical Therapy today to discuss your rotator cuff pain.