A rotator cuff tear can be debilitating and is a common cause of pain and disability in the United States. Each year almost 2 million people in the United States are diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury.
A torn rotator cuff can cause decreased range of motion and weakness at the shoulder. This can make activities very difficult including reaching behind your back or into the back seat of a car, putting on a seat belt, hooking a bra, reaching overhead, lifting objects overhead, carrying groceries and more.
The good news is that, in most instances, the rotator cuff can be treated with conservatively without surgery. However, some cases may require surgery for a full return to function.
What is the rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles and their associated tendons around the shoulder joint which all provide support and movement at the shoulder. The bones that make up the shoulder joint include the humerus (upper arm bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and clavicle (collar bone). The shoulder joint is a ball in socket joint and the rotator cuff helps keep the ball (humerus) in the socket (scapula). The muscles that make up the rotator cuff are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. The main function of this group of muscles is to provide dynamic stability to the shoulder joint.
How do I know if I have damaged my rotator cuff?
There are two main causes of a rotator cuff injury: trauma and degeneration.
Some injuries are caused by trauma such as a slip and fall and landing on an outstretched hand. Other injuries are caused by degeneration (wear and tear) over time from repetitive use.
Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include pain with certain movements such as moving your arm at certain angles (such as behind the back or overhead), pain with laying on your shoulder at night, and weakness and difficulty with lifting objects (especially overhead).
What To Do If You Have A Damaged Rotator Cuff
If you have a damaged rotator cuff you should seek out a healthcare professional for treatment. A healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist or your physician, can perform certain tests to determine whether you have a rotator cuff tear and provide proper treatment. You may also need imaging such as an MRI for a proper diagnosis.
Treatment for the rotator cuff may include physical therapy, rest, steroid injections, or surgery. Most people with a rotator cuff tear are able to heal and return to full function with physical therapy. However, in some instances surgery may be required, especially if conservative options have been exhausted.
How Can Physical Therapy Heal My Rotator Cuff Tear?
A physical therapist will assess your injury and be able to implement a plan of care that will help decrease pain, control inflammation, improve range of motion, and strengthen the rotator cuff with exercises specific to the individual’s needs.
If you have a rotator cuff injury, it is most often recommended to seek conservative care such as physical therapy before undergoing surgical intervention.
Rotator cuff injury. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rotator-cuff-injury/symptoms-causes/syc-20350225. Published April 30, 2020. Accessed January 12, 2022.
Rotator cuff tears – orthoinfo – aaos. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/rotator-cuff-tears/. Published March 2017. Accessed January 12, 2022.