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5 treatment options for a partial rotator cuff tear



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When you can’t move your arm due to shoulder pain, it can interfere with your quality of life by hindering you from carrying out your daily responsibilities. There are plenty of medical condition symptoms and injuries that can cause pain and reduced mobility in your shoulder, but one of the most common causes is a slight tear in an important muscle and tendon group.

Rotator cuff tears are a common shoulder injury, affecting about 22.1% of the general population. But not every tear is the exact same. While a partial rotator cuff tear isn’t the most severe degree of the injury, it can still cause pain and a reduced range of motion. That’s why it’s important to explore the different treatment options that a physical therapist can offer.

Read on to learn about partial rotator cuff tears, how a physical therapist can help and the treatment options that they may recommend.

What is a partial rotator cuff tear?

Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons in your shoulder that attaches the scapula, or shoulder blade, to the humerus bone and keeps your arm in place while you move it. The rotator cuff can sustain a variety of different injuries, including strains, tendinitis and tears.

A partial rotator cuff tear, also known as a partial-thickness tear, means that the tendon has been weakened due to a tear partway through, but it’s still attached to the bone. It’s less severe than a complete rotator cuff tear, or full-thickness tear, which occurs when the tendon is entirely separated from the bone.

A rotator cuff tear is usually caused by gradual wear and tear due to repetitive movements or heavy lifting. It can also be the result of trauma, such as a fall or an accident while playing sports.

The symptoms of any rotator cuff tear include:

  • Recurring pain.
  • Reduced range of motion.
  • Weakness.
  • Cracking sounds during movement.

How physical therapy can help a partial rotator cuff tear

The good news is that a partial rotator cuff tear can heal without surgery, but it’s important to seek proper treatment to help the recovery process. One of the best ways to reduce your shoulder pain and increase your range of motion is with physical therapy.

A physical therapist can help with pain management, as well as increase your shoulder’s strength and flexibility to restore its function and mobility.

The benefits of treating a partial rotator cuff tear with physical therapy include:

  • Accelerated healing process.
  • Increased strength and flexibility.
  • Increased range of motion. 
  • Improved mechanics.
  • Reduced risk of re-injury.

5 physical therapy treatments for a partial rotator cuff tear

There are a variety of treatments that a physical therapist may use to reduce the pain of your partial rotator cuff tear as well as increase your strength, flexibility and mobility. They will determine which options will be the most effective for your injury based on the severity and your physical abilities.

Here are five physical therapy treatments used for a partial rotator cuff tear:

  • Targeted exercises — Strengthening and stretching is key to restoring complete function and mobility of your shoulder after a partial rotator cuff tear. A physical therapist will walk you through exercises designed to strengthen the muscles around your shoulder joint to keep it stable and reduce the risk of future injury. They can also show you exercises that will stretch the muscles to increase your range of motion. 
  • Dry needling — A common pain management technique used in physical therapy is dry needling. This technique involves using thin needles to stimulate the affected muscles, causing them to contract. When the muscle contracts, it releases the tension that’s contributing to your pain. 
  • Electrical stimulation therapy — A physical therapist may recommend electrical stimulation therapy to help reduce your shoulder pain. It’s a modality that involves sending electrical pulses into the muscles to help them spasm and release the painful tension. There are different types of e-stim, and your therapist will determine which may be most effective for your particular symptoms. 
  • Soft tissue mobilization — Manual therapy is one of the most common physical therapy methods for decreasing pain and improving mobility. Soft tissue mobilization involves the physical therapist using massage-like movements to feel around for scar tissue or tight muscles. By applying deep pressure with their hands, the therapist works to break up the scar tissue or stretch the tight muscles,  releasing the painful tension and any fluid that may be trapped in the tissue. 
  • Postural training — While you’re recovering from a partial rotator cuff tear, poor posture can slow down the healing process because you’re placing additional pressure on the affected area. A physical therapist can walk you through postural training to help you determine the best ways to position your body while you sit, stand and walk without further agitating your injury.

REPAIR SI can help you explore physical therapy treatments for partial rotator cuff tears

If you’ve sustained a partial rotator cuff tear, physical therapy treatments help to accelerate the healing process so that you can get back to your daily physical activities. That’s where we come in. At REPAIR SI, our physical therapists will assess your injury and determine the best treatment options to help reduce pain and restore your mobility.

Contact our team today for more information or schedule an initial appointment.