Rehabilitation for Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is the thick band of muscles and associated tendons that covers the top of the upper arm and holds it in place, providing support and stability to the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff also allows for a full range of motion while keeping the ball of the arm bone in the shoulder socket. These tendons can become partially or completely torn as a result of a rotator cuff tear or injury. A rotator cuff tear can occur as a result of overuse of the muscles over a long period of time with eventual degeneration of the tendon and then tearing. This condition is more common in individuals over the age of 40 as well as in athletes or those who practice repetitive lifting or arm movement in their occupation. A rotator cuff injury may also occur as a result of a traumatic injury such as a fall, or shoulder dislocation.

Treatment may include conservative treatments such as rest, ice, physical therapy, steroid injection, and activity modification, while severe cases may require surgery for repair. The goal of any treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and restore strength.

Nonsurgical Rehabilitation for Rotator Cuff Injury

In some cases, rotator cuff tears can be treated through nonsurgical methods that focus on relieving pain and restoring function to the shoulder. These may include rest, use of a sling, anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections and physical therapy. Physical therapy exercises focus on improving the strength and control of the rotator cuff muscles and the muscles around the shoulder blade. Treatment may include:

  • Muscle strengthening exercises
  • Gradual weight-bearing activities
  • Range of motion exercises

The physical therapist may also make suggestions and create exercises for improving posture and shoulder alignment.

Rehabilitation After Rotator Cuff Surgery

In most cases, surgery will be recommended for tears that cause severe pain or that do not respond to more conservative treatments. The type of surgery performed depends on the size and location of the tear, but often involves trimming torn edges or suturing the tendon back together. Physical therapy often begins shortly after surgery to help restore strength and movement and allow patients to gradually resume their regular activities. Initial physical therapy treatments may include ice, electrical stimulation, and massage, to help control pain and swelling. As the healing begins, muscle-strengthening exercises and range of motion exercises may be used to increase movement and mobility.

Rotator cuff repair surgery is usually successful in relieving shoulder pain, although full strength cannot always be restored. It is important for patients to commit to their physical therapy program in order to achieve the most effective surgical results. The size of the tear and quality of the tissue play a large role in the recovery process. Similarly, smoking has been found to have a detrimental effect on the outcome following rotator cuff surgery.

If you are a smoker, resources are available to help you quit:

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