What should I do about a rotator cuff tear?
You may have heard from friends, family members or colleagues that tendon tears do not heal and that either you could be stuck with it or it may even require surgery to fix it. Well, it's time to bust this myth!
What we now know about tendon injury is encouraging. First and foremost, it’s important to get a thorough assessment from a physiotherapist to determine what might have led to your shoulder condition. If it’s determined that your shoulder pain is related to the rotator cuff muscle and or tendons we have excellent research that supports the use of exercise to reduce pain and improve function. Furthermore, there may be other factors in your life that are contributing to your shoulder pain and a good physiotherapist can help determine an appropriate plan.
After the assessment, your physiotherapist will provide you with a movement and exercise plan to start you along the path to recovery. Studies agree that a good way to get started with shoulder pain is with gentle range of motion and isometric exercise to capitalize on the pain-relieving effects of movement. From here, the treatment becomes a very individualized progression of loading and strengthening exercise (not necessarily in a gym!) which is matched to the person’s fitness level and their goals.
We now know that it’s not necessary to fully repair the tendon tissue to get out of pain and to regain full function. Many of us walk around with these ‘abnormalities’ seen on imaging but have no symptoms! For example, there are several MRI and CT scan imaging studies looking at professional baseball pitchers and the presence of injury. What is interesting is that most of these athletes have had rotator cuff tears, bursitis and other abnormalities, but continue to perform at elite levels and are PAIN-FREE! With emerging studies such as these, we can start to see that these changes are normal, and similar to wrinkles on our skin as we age. Specifically, these 'abnormalities' are not always related to pain and function.
Our bodies are excellent at healing and adapting and with the help of a professional, it is certainly possible to restore full functioning and become comfortable after a rotator cuff injury or pain.
By Jeff Jukes, Physiotherapist