Rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common shoulder problems. Eight million Americans will visit their doctor with a shoulder injury each year and nearly all of them will be for rotator cuff problems. These could range from a strain to a full thickness tear.
The reassuring news is that for most people a rotator cuff repair will not involve any surgery. Surgery is thought of as the last resort unless your shoulder injury is getting in the way of work, you are keen on a particular sport or you have a full thickness tear. Recent research has shown that there are a number of people walking around with torn rotator cuffs who do not exhibit any of the usual symptoms. The number could be as high as thirty percent in the over fifties who have a rotator cuff tear that shows no symptoms. This figure is thought to be as high as seventy percent in the over eighties.
Physical Therapy is now the number one treatment for rotator cuff problems and most cuff injuries respond well to it. The theory, borne out by the recent research, is that a rotator cuff tear does not need to heal completely in order to be rehabilitated. With twenty two seperate muscles involved in shoulder movement there are plenty of muscles around to help a damaged rotator cuff.
The aim of shoulder physical therapy in shoulder injuries is to strengthen all the muscles so that the shoulder works more efficiently. This way other muscles will take the load and allow the cuff to heal.
Therapy for a shoulder injury must start with a period of rest to let healing start, treating inflamed tendons with ice and anti-inflammatory drugs at the same time. If you control the inflammation in shoulder injuries you will control the pain. If off the shelf anti-inflammatory drugs are not effective then steroid injections administered by your doctor will kick start the process.
Once the injured muscle has settled down and better movement has returned you can begin a shoulder specific physical therapy programme to facilitate the rotator cuff repair. This will tend to start with simple stretching exercises to help with lost mobility gradually moving on to low resistance or low weight exercises to start waking up weakened shoulder muscles. The most important thing is that you take it easy and don't rush it as you need to avoid any painful movements.
Gradually over the next few weeks you can increase the level and variety of exercises to strengthen the shoulder. This in turn, supports the injured rotator cuff tendon and allows it to heal.
These exercises do not involve pushing weights at the gym. Gym work will probably cause more damage. Shoulder rehabilitation exercises focus on flexibility and control before moving on to strengthening exercises. Some will focus on individual muscles and some on groups of muscles but the end result is to strengthen the whole shoulder to support the healing and avoid future injuries..
So if you are worrying about a rotator cuff repair, stop, it is probably a lot easier than you think.
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