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How Can Physical Therapy Help A Torn Rotator Cuff?



Shoulder pain is the second most common reason people seek out the help of a physical therapist. When it strikes, shoulder pain can be extremely uncomfortable making it difficult to dress yourself, reach up overhead, and sleep comfortably. The shoulder is one of the more complex joints in our body and there are a multitude of things that can go wrong. You can have cartilage tears, bursitis, tendinitis, capsular stiffness, and varying degrees of muscular/ tendinous tears.


Conservative interventions such as physical therapy can be extremely beneficial for any of these issues and even prevent what could be an unnecessary surgery. When someone comes to us for help with a shoulder injury, we get started with a thorough examination to determine what tissues are involved, what’s not working well, and then come up with a game plan to help the shoulder heal properly and regain full function.


For the purposes of this article, we’ll narrow down our conversation to the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is composed of four muscles – your teres minor, subscapularis, infraspinatus, and supraspinatus. The last of which is your most commonly damaged muscle of them all. After about your fifth decade, rotator cuff problems become more common. This is mostly due to changes in tissue quality and the fact that your cuff muscles don’t receive a large supply of blood which carries nutrients and oxygen to help heal damaged tissue.


As I mentioned earlier, there can be varying degrees of tears. Some people can have severe tears, but it doesn’t limit their function enough to warrant surgery while others can have smaller tears that cause persistent pain and result in surgery. More important than the severity of the tear is what you need to be able to use your arm for and if you can achieve that through conservative methods.


Understanding the physiology can also be helpful in achieving a positive mindset and outlook on your own rehab. When a muscle tears, it may not tear straight through the tissue. You can also have partial tearing where part of the muscle is damaged while another part is still working. When you have tearing, your body responds by going to work filling the void in the damaged tissue with a matrix of scar tissue. While the scar tissue helps to build a bridge in the damaged tissue, it’s never quite as strong as it was before. That’s where physical therapy can be really helpful! We step in and prescribe the most appropriate strengthening exercises that meet you where you are and help scale you safely to the point you are confident in independently managing your symptoms.


If you’re suffering from shoulder pain and worried that you may need a painful surgery, let’s talk! We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have and give you our best advice on how to move forward. Just remember, there are a lot of options that don’t involve surgery and we’re happy to help you explore more about how PT can help! Connect with us at (504) 407-3477 or info@tandempt.com

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