Rotator cuff injuries are very common and can come from an injury such as sustaining a fall or from repeated overuse. While athletes and laborers are at a higher risk for injury, rotator cuff injuries can occur in people of all ages and degrees of physical activities and ability. Left untreated, a rotator cuff injury can cause debilitating pain and limit the use of the affected arm.
The rotator cuff is comprised of 4 muscles that work together to keep the shoulder joint stable. The rotator cuff muscles connect the upper arm bone (humerus) to the shoulder blade, with the main job being to stabilize the shoulder joint. Inflammation can occur with repetitive use, but the rotator cuff can also suffer from a tear to the muscle or tendon causing tissue damage.
Rotator cuff tears are evaluated and then categorized by either "full-thickness" or partial-thickness” which identifies how significant the injury is. When a tear is found from top to bottom or the rotator cuff, it is identified as a full-thickness tear, whereas partial thickness tears are found in only a portion of the muscle/tendon. Tears are then assessed as either acute or chronic depending on whether they occurred from a traumatic event or long-term overuse.
Sometimes surgery is necessary to repair rotator cuff tears. Whether this is the case or not, physical therapy can help either acute or chronic rotator cuff injuries to help improve how a patient’s shoulder functions and reduce the pain associated with the injury.
5 Ways Physical Therapy Can Help Rotator Cuff Injuries
- 1.Therapeutic Exercise : An important part of physical therapy when treating a rotator cuff injury is using therapeutic exercise that will help restore the shoulder’s range of motion, muscle strength, and coordination in order to participate in daily activities without pain.
- 2.Cold Compression Therapy : Cold compression therapy is used as a pain management modality when treating rotator cuff injuries. The therapeutic cold temporarily numbs the nerve cells that signal the sensation of pain. Also, therapeutic cold with active compression helps reduce swelling.
- 3.Patient Education : Particularly when a patient suffers a rotator cuff injury as a result of overuse at work, it’s important to give patient’s tools and education about how to use their bodies to perform their jobs effectively and without the risk of reoccurring.
- 4.TENS/Ultrasound combination devices : TENS and Ultrasound combination units can be used as another pain management modality when treating tears. TENS and Ultrasound help to not only reduce pain, but help to eliminate inflammation allowing the tissues to heal.
- 5.Joint Mobilizations : Joint mobilization is used about 4-6 weeks post surgery or after pain and swelling in non-surgical patients with rotator cuff injuries has decreased to address joint stiffness and increase passive range of motion (PROM).
Approximately 7.5 million people go to the doctor's for a shoulder problem, each year. More than 4.1 million of these visits are for rotator cuff problems specifically. Caught and treated early, these injuries can be treated efficiently with low risk of reoccurrence. It’s important that when people experience shoulder pain, they seek out professional assessment and treatment to avoid the risk of debilitating problems.
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