Earlier this year I tore one of the muscles in my rotator cuff. Rotator cuff tears come in a number of different shapes and sizes and can be triggered by a number of different events so I was relatively fortunate in that my cuff injury was only a partial tear not, a full thickness tear.
I remember lifting something badly and put too much strain on my shoulder joint. I felt a shooting pain in the top of my arm and shoulder and fortunately had the good sense to put it down. I gave my shoulder a rub and carried on but the next time I lifted it was much more carefully. My shoulder seemed okay, until the day after.
I woke up to a sharp pain in my shoulder. Lifting my arm up in front of me, reaching for anything or even trying to tuck in the back of my shirt all resulted in a sharp pain at the top of my shoulder. Over the next few days things gradually became stiff up and the same movements that had hurt became more and more painful. Not only was my shoulder giving me pain during the day but I was struggling to sleep. Whenever I lay on my bad shoulder the pain kept me awake. If I lay on my good shoulder, I had carefully lie my arm along my body so that it disn't drop down and cause me pain Life was getting very difficult..
I resorted to sleeping flat on my back which really annoyed my wife as I immediately started to snore like a trooper.
To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed as having a rotator cuff tear. I had managed to tear my Supraspinatus tendon which runs through a channel of bone just under my collarbone before it attaches to the top of my arm. As I had torn it it had become inflamed. Because of the inflammation it was getting snagged on the bone every time that I used that particular muscle resulting in the muscle gradually fraying. Surgery was recommended. The objective was to shave away a piece of bone to allow the damaged muscle more room to move so that it could heal. Being in the UK I had a pinful wait of three months before my surgery date.
I began looking into shoulder problems and their therapy and found out that a lot of rotator cuff tears are treated without resorting to surgery. Allow the muscle to heal with rest whilst treating the pain and inflammation with anti-inflammatory drugs and ice packs and then, once the pain has lessened start simple low weight exercises to build up and strengthen the muscles.
Most important of all, let the muscle rest. If I had continued using my shoulder normally, I would have damaged teh muscle even more every time that I used it. Had I succeeded in ignoring the pain or worked through it I could have eventually snapped the tendon completely. Now that would have needed surgery!
In the end,by resting my arm amd avoiding any painful movement, by carefully treating the inflammation I gradually improved until I could do very simple easy exercises without any pain. As the exercises strengthened my muscles I gradually regained the strength and movement in my shoulder and now ten weeks on I have full pain free movement again.
I'm lucky in that I have an office job. With a few simple changes to my desk layout I could avoid using the damaged muscle. If you have a more physical job you may have to think a bit more about how to avoid using the injured shoulder, but it is vital that you do so as continuing to use it will simply make it worse and all the therapy in the world wont help if you manage to tear it completely. Rotator cuff exercise features in nearly all shoulder injury therapy courses simply because the strength of the rotator cuff is fundamental to the health of your shoulders. Even if you have healthy shoulders it is worth spending a few minutes a day keeping these four muscles in good shape.
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Nick Bryant is an older dad to a young family who suffered a shoulder impingement which he was told would require surgery to correct. After reading up on the condition he managed a complete recovery with just rest and rotator cuff exercise
Read his full story at his blog
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