A Rotator cuff tear is one of the most feared injuries but shouldn’t be. Here’s what you need to know about rotator cuff tears to get them stronger, faster.
Just how common are they?
A rotator cuff tear is present in over 20% of the population, but don’t let that number fool you because not 1 in 5 of us actually have painful rotator cuffs. This is because, just like you can and probably do have joint degeneration in your knee that gives you no pain at all, you can have rotator cuff tears that are pain-free (asymptomatic).
So the real number you should be interested in is the number of symptomatic tears; 35% of rotator cuff tears on radiology are symptomatic, which is still very common!(1)
Put simply, it is a group of muscles which come from the front, back and top of your shoulder-blade and wraps around that ball and socket of your shoulder. Their job is to coordinate between themselves to help keep the ball positioned nicely in the socket while you move your arm.
Rotator cuff tears often happen in the tendon, close to the shoulder joint.
Does a rotator cuff tear need surgery?
Really, it is case by case but most rotator cuff injuries do not need surgery.
As a good guideline, with all rotator cuff tears, it is best to trial 12 weeks of conservative rehab and if that has not much improved the injury, then you look at seeing the surgeon.
A recent study actually showed that there was no difference between surgery and active physiotherapy at 1-year follow-up(2)
Physio Rehab exercises for a rotator cuff tear needs to cover three things:
- Regaining range of motion and muscle activation
- Improving strength
- Regaining full control and function
We are going to cover these stages in three posts and here is Stage 1, which starts after 3-4 days of rest, or more if needed:
Stage 1: Regaining range and muscle activation
1. Pendular circles
2. Regular movement
Using a broomstick or a pulley, this is a great active-assisted exercise for regaining movement and stopping the shoulder stiffening up.
Hold onto the end of the stick with your injured side and help lift it up with the other hand.
Repeat this 20 times 5 times per day without pushing into pain.
These exercises activate the rotator cuff in a safe way by doing gentle wall pushes. It is essential to load the rotator cuff in a safe way and gently to encourage strong healing and minimizes scar tissue formation.
- External rotation
Read for Stage 2 rotator cuff rehab? Follow this link to the next post in the series.