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Suspect a rotator cuff tear? Here’s what to do



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Physical therapists commonly treat injuries to the rotator cuff. Your rotator cuff consists of the muscles that connect your upper arm bone to your shoulder blade. It helps your shoulder function on a day-to-day basis. According to research, about 2 million people in the United States experience a rotator cuff tear every year. In one study, researchers found that 22.1% of people had a rotator cuff tear.

Your rotator cuff tendon is the tissue in your rotator cuff that joins together the muscles and bones in your shoulder. A rotator cuff tear involves the complete or partial detachment of your rotator cuff tendon from the top part of your upper arm bone. There are three types of rotator cuff tears:

  • Partial tears — Partial tears are tiny tears through the tendon in your rotator cuff. This means that your tendon does not completely separate from your shoulder bone.
  • Full-thickness tears — Full-thickness tears are tears that separate the tendon in your rotator cuff from your shoulder bone. There are two types:
  • Full-thickness incomplete tear — A full-thickness incomplete tear refers to just a tiny section of your tendon being separated from your shoulder bone.
  • Full-thickness complete tear — A full-thickness complete tear refers to your tendon being entirely separated from your shoulder bone.
  • Complex tears — Complex tears are tears that affect multiple tendons in your rotator cuff.

4 symptoms of a rotator cuff tear

Curious about how to identify a rotator cuff tear? Here are some common symptoms:

  • Shoulder pain — A rotator cuff injury usually causes pain on the top of your shoulder, and this pain may be periodic. It may occur when you lift your arms or move your shoulder in particular ways.
  • Night pain — If you have a high level of shoulder pain, you may feel uncomfortable lying on your shoulder while you sleep. Researchers have found that just 11% of the patients with symptoms of a rotator cuff tear reported being able to sleep as they usually would.
  • Arm weakness and/or low arm mobility — A rotator cuff injury may lead to difficulties in how you use your arm on a daily basis. You may experience pain when lifting your arm, rotating your arm or grabbing objects.
  • Cracks and pops in your shoulder — After a rotator cuff injury, you may hear cracks and pops when lifting your arm or objects with your shoulder.

When should you see a physical therapist for a rotator cuff tear? 

Think you have a rotator cuff tear? It is important to closely monitor yourself, as rotator cuff tears can increase in size over time. You should see a physical therapist if you are experiencing one or more of the following conditions:

  • Inability to move your arm and/or shoulder.
  • Inability to lift up your arm or move it to your side after a two- to three-day period.
  • Shoulder pain lasting longer than two to three days.
  • Shoulder pain hindering day-to-day activities.

3 benefits of going to physical therapy for help with a rotator cuff tear

You can visit a physical therapist for an assessment of your pain level. Physical therapy involves the following benefits:

  • Improving muscle strength — Improving muscle strength can prevent key muscle loss and thinning.
  • Improving flexibility — Physical therapy focused on preventing reductions in flexibility can help your recovery process.
  • Improving joint mobility and lowering pain — Physical therapists can help promote joint mobility, which can reduce pain from stiff joints. Working on joint mobility with a physical therapist can even ease your recovery process after surgery, if surgery is required.

4 PT methods to help treat your rotator cuff tear

Here are four physical therapy methods to treat a torn rotator cuff:

  • Strengthening exercises — Interested in recovering and keeping your strength after injuring your rotator cuff? Physical therapists can provide strengthening exercises that focus on specific areas. The goal of these exercises is to strengthen your shoulder, which can reduce pain and increase resistance to future rotator cuff injuries.
  • Stretching exercises — Stretching exercises are one common form of physical therapy for your shoulder pain. These exercises focus on flexibility, which can reduce muscle stiffness. Stretching exercises can reduce the time you need to get back to your day-to-day tasks. Promoting joint flexibility may also prevent future shoulder injuries.
  • Dry needling Dry needling is a method involving the use of thin needles on the injured shoulder. It can promote blood flow, relax your shoulder muscles and reduce swelling. The effects of dry needling can be felt during the first 24 hours after treatment. These effects may include greater shoulder mobility and less pain.
  • Post-surgical rehab Post-surgical rehab refers to treatment after a surgery. This type of care can benefit you after surgery for a large rotator cuff tear. It can help reduce pain and promote joint mobility, as your joints tend to tense up right after surgery.

Our REPAIR SI team can treat your rotator cuff tear with high-quality PT exercises

At REPAIR SI, we offer a wide range of services, from physical therapy to acupuncture to fitness training. Your treatment at REPAIR SI will cover the physical, mental and spiritual parts of your life. We value whole-body treatment, meaning that we approach your care with your whole wellness in mind, not just one problem area. This is why we’re collaborating with our community to give you the high-quality services that you need.

Our team has a strong commitment to serving our community with compassion and professionalism. In need of treatment for your rotator cuff tear? You can count on REPAIR SI for high-quality, comprehensive care. We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Contact us today for more information or to schedule your first appointment.