Rotator cuff injuries are common, and although they are not life-threatening, they can limit your range of movement and lead to chronic pain. You might have a rotator cuff tear if you find that arm or shoulder movement becomes painful and more difficult, even for small movements like combing your hair or putting on a jacket. The shoulder may feel stiff and weak, and the pain may even keep you awake at nighttime.
To understand how rotator cuff tears affect a person, it helps to understand the anatomy of this area. The rotator cuff is not a single muscle, but a group of muscles and tendons that work in harmony to provide mobility and stability to the shoulders. Because there are so many tissues involved in the rotator cuff, there are also many different types of rotator cuff tears. Early treatment is essential for rotator cuff tears, because if you delay seeking medical attention, the torn tendon can start to retract, which makes healing and treatment more difficult and less successful. The sooner you seek treatment for a rotator cuff tear, the higher the odds of treatment success.
Nonsurgical Treatments for Rotator Cuff Tears
Most partial rotator cuff tears are treated non-surgically, with the goal of maintaining range of motion and preventing shoulder stiffness. Treatment is focused on relieving pain and restoring the strength of the affected shoulder. Most patients with partial rotator cuff tears benefit from anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and steroid injections. However, most when tears do not heal on their own, and patients who are very active or use their arms for overhead work may fair better with surgical treatment.
Nonsurgical rotator cuff treatment may include:
- Rest: Once you have injured your rotator cuff, it’s important to avoid any physical activities that might aggravate it. This is especially important if you have a physically demanding job or if you participate in sports.
- Immobilization: Avoid repetitive and overhead movements, keep your shoulder in a resting position.Your doctor may prescribe a sling to protect the shoulder and keep it still so it can heal better and more quickly.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Taking pills like ibuprofen or naproxen can improve swelling and alleviate pain associated with rotator cuff tears.
- Physical therapy: The goal of physical therapy is to restore strength and increase your flexibility and mobility. Your physical therapist can help teach you how to avoid reinjury.
- Steroid injections: Corticosteroid injections are used as a powerful anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling and improve pain symptoms. However, they can only be used a limited number of times before they become ineffective.
When Does a Rotator Cuff Tear Need Surgical Treatment?
Rotator cuff tears can expand over time, especially with repetitive use or reinjury. Signs your rotator cuff tear has grown larger include worsening pain, and diminished range of motion and strength in the affected arm. Surgery is recommended for patients with persistent pain or weakness that won’t respond to non-surgical therapies. Your orthopedic surgeon will discuss all your rotator cuff tear treatment options with you so you can make an informed decision about the next steps.
To book an appointment with one of our board-certified orthopedic surgeons, please call (727) 300-2537 to book an appointment at Comprehensive Spine Institute.