Rotator cuff injuries (RCIs) are a common injury seen and treated by physical therapists. Almost 2 million people suffer rotator cuff injuries each year. RCIs can severely impact your daily life by causing pain, limiting your range of motion, and causing you difficulty in lifting, reaching, or even sleeping. You may experience a drastic change in your quality of life due to the discomfort you are experiencing and the inability to participate in your normal daily activities. Timely treatment, including seeking physical therapy, can be extremely beneficial to helping to alleviate your discomfort, reduce your symptoms and regain your normal functioning.
Types of rotator cuff injuries and their causes
RCIs can lead to a range of daily life challenges depending on the type and severity of the injury. Symptoms of RCIs can include pain when lying down, especially on the injured shoulder, lifting or lowering your arm, and reaching behind your back; loss of strength; and clicking or popping noises when moving your arm. RCIs can be due to different issues such as:
- Tendinitis — The tendons of the rotator cuff connect your muscles to the bones of your shoulder joint. Tendinitis is the inflammation of the tendons in the shoulder joint.
- Bursitis — The bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that help cushion and lubricate the rotator cuff and bones of your shoulder joint. Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae and can occur when the muscle or bone rubs them too much. It causes swelling and extra fluid buildup, which causes pain.
- Partial tears — Partial tears of the rotator cuff are small tears in the tendons.
- Full-thickness tears — Full-thickness tears are complete tears through the tendon.
- Complex tears — Complex tears involve multiple tendons or muscles in the rotator cuff.
RCIs can be caused by overuse, trauma, aging process, poor posture, and repetitive movements. Athletes, especially those in sports that involve a lot of overhead motions (baseball, tennis, and swimming) can be particularly susceptible to these injuries. Those in careers that involve a lot of lifting, pushing, and pulling can also be susceptible to RCIs.
Physical therapy treatments that can help rotator cuff injuries
Physical therapy can be incredibly beneficial in helping the recovery from rotator cuff injuries. Treatments for RCIs can include:
- Graston Technique® — The Graston Technique is a specialized manual therapy technique used to help treat RCIs by trained physical therapists. It uses stainless steel instruments to apply targeted pressure to the affected area. It is intended to help break down scar tissue, improve circulation and promote tissue healing. It can help reduce pain and improve the range of motion of the shoulder.
- Cupping — Cupping is a physical therapy technique that involves placing special cups on the skin to create a vacuum effect. It is intended to increase blood flow, help promote healing and help reduce muscle tension, which can help rotator cuff injuries.
- Electrical stimulation — Electrical stimulation can be beneficial in the rehabilitation of RCIs. It involves the use of low-level electrical currents to target muscles and nerves. It can help reduce pain, improve circulation and promote muscle contraction. It can be used on its own or alongside other physical therapy treatments to help boost recovery.
- Manual therapy — Manual therapy is a category of hands-on techniques used in physical therapy. It includes joint mobilization. Joint mobilization can be used to help treat rotator cuff injuries by the physical therapist using controlled movements to the shoulder joint to help restore its proper range of motion. It is intended to help alleviate stiffness in the shoulder joint, improve flexibility and reduce pain.
- Active release therapy — Active release therapy is a physical therapy technique that is used to address soft tissue injuries like RCIs. It is intended to identify and treat adhesions or scar tissue that can form in muscles, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissue. Active release therapy can help reduce shoulder pain, improve range of motion, enhance muscle function and boost the healing process.
- Dry needling — Dry needling is a physical therapy technique performed by licensed physical therapists. This technique involves the physical therapist inserting thin, sterile needles into trigger points with the intention of stimulating healing and alleviating pain. It can also help release muscle tension and improve circulation.
Studies have shown that physical therapy can be highly effective in the treatment for rotator cuff injuries. Physical therapy can help reduce the pain and restore your function. Combining science- and evidence-based treatments, like those listed above, physical therapy can be used to help your RCI. Physical therapy can also provide you with the tools you need that can help prevent future injuries.
REPARI SI can help you find relief from your rotator cuff injury
REPAIR SI can help you with your rotator cuff injury through a combination of treatments and techniques. With each session, our licensed physical therapists can help you make progress, help ease pain, and work to restore your shoulder function. Our goal is to provide our patients with the best care possible to help them improve their quality of life and strive for a pain-free future.