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Rotator Cuff Tear

You finally got the news. After months of doctor appointments, x-rays and an MRI experience best forgotten, you finally have the answer. You now know why lifting that gallon of milk feels more like lifting a ton of bricks.  You know why you’ve had that dull ache in your shoulder that wakes you up in the middle of the night.  You also know why putting your shirt on in the morning has become an awkward arm wrestling match with the sleeve of your shirt. 

The tests are in and the diagnosis has been given.

You have a rotator cuff tear.

Before you cancel the trip to visit your grandkids, give up golfing for good or take 3 months off from work to recover from rotator cuff repair surgery, there are a few things you should know about tears.

Rotator cuff tears typically affect tendons which attach muscles to bones.  Tendons are thick and tough,but can be worn over time or torn with force or trauma.  However, a tear in one or more of these tendons does not automatically mean that surgery is necessary. 

Not all rotator cuff tears require surgery.

It is important to realize that not all tears in the rotator cuff are the same and that people with tears do not all share the same experience. 

Many people walking around right now with tears in rotator cuff tendons are completely unaware of them. Some of these tears are even severe,but with no pain it is easy for these people to live their lives normally.  They are only aware of the tear if they begin having symptoms or have an MRI for another reason and the tear is discovered.

Other people can have relatively small tears but significant pain and activity limitations. Everyday tasks such as putting dishes away or driving are practically impossible.  When the pain or limitations start to affect daily life, these people go to the doctor to find answers.

Doctors have various options when they suspect a rotator cuff tear. Not every doctor orders a patient to get an MRI.  After all, an MRI is just a picture of the rotator cuff. It doesn’t do anything to actually improve the symptoms. Instead,doctors may try other routes to treat the patient and get them out of pain before ordering an MRI. Physical therapy is often one route selected.

Doctors know that physical therapy can help to reduce pain and improve the strength and movement in the shoulder.  This is especially true when the symptoms are mild to moderate.

Rotator cuff repair surgery and recovery can take up to 3 months.  That is a long time. It also requires you to change your lifestyle completely during the process. Simple things like sleeping in your bed, putting on a belt or shaving can be very difficult.  If you can relieve your pain and do everything you want with physical therapy first, you can avoid the entire surgical and recovery process!

Road to Recovery

You can’t get your shoulder back to normal without moving it. But when your shoulder hurts the last thing you want to do is move it.

Certain movements can be harmful, especially if pain is worsened.  An exercise program that improves the motion and strength of your shoulder is essential.  Physical therapists understand the complexity of a tendon tear and how it effects your life. Their expertise will provide the best program for you to speed your recovery and avoid further injury. 

There are occasions when rotator cuff repair surgery is needed.  People who have completed physical therapy before surgery are prepared as therapists help identify and solve such problems as finding the best sleeping positions after surgery, how to manage pain without excessive use of pain medication, what to expect during the recovery period and much more.

Physical therapy for a rotator cuff tear is helpful even when surgery is unavoidable. Rotator cuff tears are not pleasant, but if you work with a great team of doctors and physical therapists, you will once again be able to put your belt on and win the arm wrestling matches with your shirt! 

To learn more about how physical therapy can help you with your shoulder pain, call to set up an evaluation today.