What Is a Rotator Cuff Tear and How to Treat It?

Struggling with shoulder pain? Have trouble reaching behind your back? Is your shoulder getting weaker and weaker? These symptoms may indicate that you have a rotator cuff tear. Acute injury, overuse, heavy lifting, and trauma to the shoulder are common causes. Without adequate treatment, rotator cuff tears may lead to decreased range of motion, loss of flexibility, and severe pain.

What Causes Rotator Cuff Tears?

The rotator cuff comprises four muscles that help move and stabilize the shoulder. Every time you are raising your arm or throwing a ball, you’re using the rotator cuff. Therefore, these muscles are subject to wear and tear, and can easily become injured.

There are different types of rotator cuff injuries, and each has distinctive characteristics. Tears are usually caused by overuse of the tendons that connect the rotator cuff muscle to the bones. They may also result from a fall on the shoulder, repetitive trauma and microtrauma, bony spurs, and low blood supply associated with aging.

Certain sports and activities increase the risk of developing rotator cuff tears. Strength training and swimming, for instance, involve repetitive arm movements. An example is an overhead press, which may cause trauma and stress to the shoulder muscle. One wrong move can lead to severe injury.

Another possible cause is aging. Rotator cuff tears are more common in seniors, limiting their flexibility and range of motion. A staggering 80 percent of those over the age of 80 experience this injury. Carpenters, painters, construction workers, and athletes are prone to rotator cuff tears as well due to the repetitive movements they perform on a regular basis.

Signs and Symptoms of Torn Rotator Cuff

In the early stages, this type of injury may have no symptoms at all. Some people experience mild shoulder pain or discomfort, especially when moving their arms. As the injury worsens, pain becomes more severe. Rotator cuff injury symptoms usually include:

Rotator cuff tears can occur suddenly or gradually. Overuse, for instance, causes a gradual onset of muscle weakness and pain. A fall on the shoulder will cause immediate weakness and severe pain. If left untreated, the injury may become chronic and affect your quality of life.

Treatment Options for Rotator Cuff Tears

This type of injury is usually treated with physiotherapy, hyaluronate injections, corticosteroids, and pain relievers. Surgery is only recommended in severe cases. Physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises are the most widely used treatment methods.

An experienced therapist can prescribe exercises that will restore your strength and range of motion. These may include rotator cuff stretches, side-lying external rotations, standing rows, pendulum swings, and more. Most exercises can be safely done at home and require no equipment.

Physical therapy for rotator cuff tears may also include electrical stimulation of the muscles and nerves, ice and heat, massage, and preventive measures. Unless the injury is severe, physiotherapy is a typical starting point. Over time, it will increase your mobility, strengthen your shoulder muscles, and improve the mechanics of the shoulder joint.

The sooner you start treatment, the higher your chances of recovery. Visit our clinics at Back To Health Physical and Occupational Therapy or call us to schedule an appointment 888.312.5764.

Our therapists can help with a wide range of problems, from rotator cuff tears to carpal tunnel syndrome, sports injuries, tendonitis, fractures, and stroke rehab. We’re just one call away!

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