Learn more about rotator cuff tears and discover how you can regain function with physical therapy.

Your rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that attach your upper arm bone (humerus) to your shoulder blade (scapula). Working together, they help lift and rotate your arm while keeping your upper arm bone firmly in the shoulder socket. Your supraspinatus tendon rests on the top of your shoulder joint and is the rotator cuff tendon most susceptible to tearing. People over 40 who do a lot of overhead reaching are at the most risk with tears usually happening because of wear overtime.

If you’re experiencing pain in the top of your shoulder or down the side of your arm, you may be suffering from a rotator cuff tear. Read on to learn more about the condition and how you can find relief by working with an MTS physical therapist.

What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

There are two different kinds of tears that can occur in your supraspinatus tendon: a full-thickness tear, which means that the entire tendon is damaged from top to bottom, and a partial-thickness tear, which means that part of the tendon is torn but some of it is still intact.

The cause of your tear may be acute or degenerative. If you have an acute tear, you probably injured your rotator cuff in a single incident by falling or lifting something too heavy. If you have a degenerative tear, your tendon may have worn down gradually over time. This is the most common type of rotator cuff injury, and is often caused by repetitive stress to the tendon through repeated shoulder motions. A degenerative tear can also occur with age because of a decrease in blood supply or an overgrowth of bone tissue.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tears

If you’re experiencing any of the following, you may have a supraspinatus rotator cuff tear:

  • Pain down the outside of your arm or over the top of your shoulder
  • A feeling of weakness in your shoulder
  • Loss of overhead motion in your shoulder
  • Pain when lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain when lifting and lowering your arm
  • A crackling sensation when moving your arm into certain positions
  • A feeling of heaviness and weakness in the affected arm

If you have an acute tear that occurred suddenly, your pain probably came on quickly and is fairly intense. If you have a degenerative tear that developed over time, your pain was probably mild at first, then slowly increased in intensity.

Since everyone’s body and injuries are different, the best solution is to seek the help of an MTS physical therapist for an evaluation and a rehabilitation program specific to your needs.

How to Treat Rotator Cuff Tears

Physical therapy can be effective in restoring function and relieving pain in over 50% of patients with supraspinatus tears. Your physical therapist will use a combination of the following to help you recover:

  • Soft Tissue Mobilization
  • Joint Mobilizations
  • Stretching exercises
  • Resistance Exercises
  • Electrotherapy

You can also rest, use anti-inflammatory medication and steroid injections (if needed) from a physician in order to find relief. Your physical therapist will help you come up with a plan to gradually ease back into activity.

If your symptoms have lasted for six to 12 months or you have a large and/or acute tear that has caused a significant loss of function in your shoulder, surgery may prove to be the best option for you. Through working with your physical therapist, he or she can determine how severe your rotator cuff injury is and refer you to the appropriate orthopedic surgeon if needed. If you choose to undergo surgery, keep in mind that physical therapy will play a vital role in regaining your strength and range of motion post-operatively.

How to Prevent a Rotator Cuff Tear

In order to prevent a rotator cuff tear, avoid repeated overhead motions when possible. If you have to perform these kinds of motions repetitively, talk with a physical therapist about how to safely perform your activity and minimize your risk of injury. You can also do regular strengthening exercises, maintain good posture, limit sleeping on your side, and avoid carrying heavy objects with one arm away from your body in order to prevent an injury.

If you are having shoulder pain or suspect a tear, contact MTS today to explore your treatment options! 949.529.1567

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