Rotator Cuff Tears and Physical Therapy Treatment

acl tear advanced pmrBy: Dr. Robert Achimov PT, DPT

One of the most common shoulder injuries seen in the orthopedic setting is tearing to the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles on the back of your shoulder that help with certain movements of the shoulder, most commonly rotating outwards. The specific muscle included in this movement are the Subscapularis, Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, and Teres Minor. These muscles are referred to as the rotator “cuff” because they form a “cuff” around the shoulder joint, which allows them to freely rotate the shoulder when activated. Because they are smaller muscles making up a larger group, they can easily weaken and tear if not properly strengthened. While many people associate rotator cuff injuries with sports players, this is not always the case. Rotator Cuff injuries are not limited to one specific type of job or person, and can present in people of all ages, even in babies! Because the rotator cuff is most commonly injured when moving your arms or lifting overhead, activities such as putting heavy plates away on a high shelf can also result in injury. However, the bulk of injuries do occur after age 14, as this tends to be the time children start participating in more rigorous activities.

The most common symptoms of rotator cuff injury are pain and weakness to the shoulder when moving in certain directions, such as raising your arms overhead or reaching behind your back to grab an object. This is generally a result of small tears in the muscle fibers that effect their ability to move normally. The first time you notice these symptoms, it is important to see your Doctor as soon as possible to start you on a therapeutic program to heal the affected tissues and prevent further injury. Failure to do so could result in an increase in pain or even result in further or complete tearing of the effected tissue.

While it may be tempting to self-treat a rotator cuff injury, it is very important to be examined andtreated by a Licensed Physical Therapist in all cases. Your Physical Therapist will not only give you a proper diagnosis and rule out other impairments, he or she will also develop a safe, effective treatment plan that will put you on the road to recovery. Treatments for these types of injuries generally include hands-on treatment by the Physical Therapist to restore muscular and joint movement, therapeutic exercises to restore strength and range of motion, and modalities such as ultrasound or E-STIM to control pain and inflammation. Other important aspects of treatment will include learning proper lifting and movement mechanics to prevent re-injury. Treatment time varies by person, however, most patients see improvement in their overall symptoms within a few weeks of treatment. Ultimately, if you think this applies to you, or you just want to learn more about the topic, consult with your Physical Therapist today!


Mayo Clinic: cuff-injury/home/ovc- 20126921

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:

Posted in: Physical Therapy, Shoulder

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