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Understanding Rotator Cuff Tears and How Physical Therapy Can Help

The rotator cuff is an essential part of our shoulder, comprising of four muscles and tendons that connect our arm to the shoulder blade. Unfortunately, as we age, the rotator cuff becomes weaker and prone to tears. Rotator cuff tears can occur due to a variety of reasons, including overuse, trauma, or degenerative changes. The severity of the rotator cuff tear can range from mild to severe, depending on the extent of the damage.

If you’re experiencing a rotator cuff tear, you’re not alone. It affects over 3 million Americans annually. However, it’s essential to understand the root cause of your injury and how to treat it. Physical therapy is an effective way to manage the pain and heal your rotator cuff tear without the need for surgery. In this blog, we’ll discuss the reasons why your rotator cuff may tear, how to prevent it, and the benefits of physical therapy.

Why Does Your Rotator Cuff Tear?

Rotator cuff tears can happen to anyone, regardless of age, but it’s more common in people over 50 years of age. Some common causes of rotator cuff tears are:

  • Overuse: Repetitive activities such as pitching, swimming, or throwing can lead to tiny tears in your rotator cuff muscles that can eventually become more significant over time.
  • Trauma: A fall, lifting a heavy object, or any sudden impact on your shoulder can cause a rotator cuff tear.
  • Degenerative changes: As we age, the blood supply to the rotator cuff muscles decreases, and the tendons become weaker, making them prone to tears.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tears

Rotator cuff tears can cause a variety of symptoms, including pain, weakness, and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. Patients may experience a dull ache in the shoulder that worsens with use, as well as difficulty raising their arm above their head. Some patients may feel a popping sensation or hear a clicking sound when moving their arm. In severe cases, patients may experience muscle atrophy or weakness, particularly in the shoulder or upper arm.

Treatment for Rotator Cuff Tears

If you suspect that you have a rotator cuff tear, it’s important to see a doctor and/or a physical therapist right away. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the tear, but typically involve a combination of rest, physical therapy, and pain management. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the damaged tendons.

The Benefits of Physical Therapy

In many cases, physical therapy is an effective way of treating rotator cuff tears without the need for surgery. It involves stretches and exercises that help strengthen the muscles and tendons in your shoulder, reducing pain and inflammation. Our physical therapists will tailor a program based on your specific needs, and we’ll monitor your progress closely throughout the process. The benefits of physical therapy for a rotator cuff tear include:

  • Pain relief: Physical therapy involves gentle stretches and exercises that can help manage the pain associated with a rotator cuff tear.
  • Improved range of motion: With proper physical therapy, you can regain your shoulder’s range of motion, helping you perform your daily activities with ease.
  • Avoid surgery: In many cases, physical therapy can help heal your rotator cuff tear without the need for surgery.
  • Quality of life: With less pain and better range of motion, you get to enjoy the aspects of life that bring you the greatest joy. 

What to Expect During Physical Therapy

Your physical therapy program may last up to several weeks or even months, depending on the severity of your case. You’ll typically work with a physical therapist for your shoulder’s range of motion and strengthening exercises to help your shoulder recover. Your physical therapist will also teach you how to perform exercises at home to continue your rehabilitation. Throughout the process, your physical therapist will adjust your program as needed, monitor your progress, and suggest ways to prevent re-injury.

Prevention of Rotator Cuff Tears

While we can’t control the aging factor, there are ways to prevent the occurrence of rotator cuff tears. If you’re involved in physical activities such as sports or exercise, make sure to stretch and warm-up before indulging in them. If you participate in physical activities, maintaining full mobility and strength in your shoulder can reduce your risk of injury. If you’ve already experienced a rotator cuff tear, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention to prevent further damage.

A rotator cuff tear can be a debilitating injury, but physical therapy can help ease the pain and promote healing. By understanding the root cause of the injury and seeking treatment early, you can avoid invasive surgical procedures. Physical therapy is an excellent non-surgical treatment option that helps to re-strengthen the shoulder muscles and improve range of motion, leading to an efficient recovery. 

If you’re experiencing any shoulder pain or discomfort, schedule a consultation with one of our physical therapists today to get started!

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