When someone says you have a rotator cuff tear, you might automatically think that it should be repaired or fixed. While that might seem to be common sense, fact is you don’t need to rush into surgery for a rotator cuff tear.
For tears of the rotator cuff, physical therapy may be just as effective as surgery according the the research, and we here at Bacci and Glinn Physical Therapy have treated many rotator cuff tears. If you are looking for rotator cuff tear treatment in Visalia, and you don’t want to go through all of the risks and challenges of surgery, you should consider trying natural and conservative care first.
More on the Rotator Cuff
The rotator cuff is a crucial component of the shoulder that allows it to function. It connects the upper arm bone (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula) with four muscles, each of which has a tendon that attaches to different parts of the scapula. These tendons form a “cuff” around the head of the humerus, and all the muscles work together to control and stabilize the shoulder.
As a ball-and-socket joint, the rotator cuff helps secure the “ball” portion of the joint—the humerus—as the arm moves and rotates within the “socket” (the scapula). It plays an extremely important role in keeping the shoulder stable when performing many overhead movements, such as reaching, throwing, and picking things up. Unfortunately, because these movements are so common and the rotator cuff is used so frequently, it’s also quite vulnerable to injury.
When any of the tendons of the rotator cuff becomes injured or torn, the tendon becomes detached from the head of the humerus, and the injury is called a rotator cuff tear. Some rotator cuff tears occur after sudden injuries like falling on an outstretched arm or lifting a heavy object, but most develop gradually over time after the tendon gradually loses its strength. Athletes involved in overhead sports like baseball, tennis, and weightlifting, and those who are older than 40 are at a greater risk for rotator cuff tears.
If you happen to experience a rotator cuff tear, it’s important to understand that surgery is not the only option available. For many patients, physical therapy can lead to similar results as surgery, but at a much lower cost and with far fewer risks for complications. Similar outcomes between surgery and conservative treatments have been found in a number of studies, one of which—published in 2017—concludes with the following:
There is limited evidence that surgery is not more effective in treating rotator cuff tear than conservative treatment alone. Thus, a conservative approach is advocated as the initial treatment modality (for these patients).
Whether or not surgery is needed depends on the seriousness of the injury, the age of the patients, and several other factors. If it is determined that physical therapy is appropriate, a typical treatment program will consist of:
- Stretching exercises: intended to increase flexibility that has been lost
- Strengthening exercises: intended to build back strength in the shoulder
- Passive treatments: includes ice, heat, and ultrasound to alleviate pain
- Activity modification: your therapist will teach you what positions and movements to avoid or modify to reduce aggravating your shoulder further
So if you’ve recently experienced a rotator cuff tear and are wondering what to do next, visit a physical therapist first before anything else. Taking this step will get you started on a treatment program and on your way to recovery right away, and will also help you reduce the chances of unnecessary tests or procedures down the line.