The “rotator cuff” is a group of 4 muscles that are responsible for keeping the shoulder joint stable. Unfortunately, injuries to the rotator cuff are very common, either from injury or with repeated overuse of the shoulder. Injuries to the rotator cuff can vary as a person ages. When left untreated, this injury can cause severe pain and a decrease in the ability to use the arm.
The injured arm often feels heavy, weak, and painful. In severe cases, tears may keep you from doing your daily activities or even raising your arm. People with rotator cuff tears often are unable to lift the arm to reach high shelves or reach behind their backs to tuck in a shirt or blouse, pull out a wallet, or fasten a bra.
Once a rotator cuff/shoulder injury has been diagnosed, you will work with your orthopedist and physical therapist to decide if you should have surgery or if you can try to manage your recovery without surgery. If you don’t have surgery, your therapist will work with you to restore your range of motion, muscle strength, and coordination, so that you can return to your regular activities. In some cases, your therapist may help you learn to modify your physical activity so that you put less stress on your shoulder. If you decide to have surgery, your therapist can help you both before and after the procedure.
Regardless of which treatment you have—physical therapy only, or surgery and physical therapy—early treatment can help speed up healing and avoid permanent damage.
A physical therapist can help you decrease your risk of developing or worsening a rotator cuff/shoulder injury, especially if you seek assistance at the first sign of shoulder pain or discomfort. To avoid developing or progressing to a rotator cuff tear from an existing shoulder impingement, it is imperative to avoid future exacerbations. Your physical therapist can help you strengthen your rotator cuff muscles, train you to avoid potentially harmful positions, and determine when it is appropriate for you to return to your normal activities.