How Will Rotator Cuff Tear Physical Therapy Help Me?

If you have been experiencing shoulder pain, you may have a rotator cuff tear. This is a very common injury and can be quite painful.

The rotator cuff refers to four muscles and tendons responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons attach the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone, the humerus. The rotator cuff allows you to lift your arm and rotate your arm. A tear in one or more of these muscles can cause pain and limit your ability to move your arm.

This post will discuss everything you need to know about rotator cuff tears, from their symptoms and causes to treatment options available. We will also talk about rotator cuff tear physical therapy and how it can help relieve the pain.

So, let’s get started.

Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms

Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear can include:

  • Pain in the shoulder area that worsens with movement
  • Pain radiating down towards the elbow
  • A popping or clicking sensation in the shoulder joint
  • Weakness in the arm and hand
  • Trouble lifting your arm overhead
  • Diffiuclty sleeping secondary to pain

What Are the Common Causes of a Rotator Cuff Tear?

The cause of a rotator cuff tear can vary depending on the individual. Some common causes include:

  • Repetitive use or overuse of the shoulder joint
  • Injury to the shoulder, such as a fall or sports injury
  • Age-related wear and tear on the rotator cuff muscles and tendons
  • Chronic rotator cuff impingement

How to Relieve Rotator Cuff Tear Pain

This injury often heals on its own, if it is a small tear, as the tears in the rotator cuff start repairing themselves. This means you might not need extensive treatment to get back to doing day-to-day activities.     

However, the ideal treatment may vary depending on the severity of the tear and your symptoms.

Below are a few ways to relieve your pain and discomfort caused by a rotator cuff tear.   

  • Resting the shoulder joint
  • Applying ice to the shoulder area
  • Wearing an arm sling to give the shoulder some downtime and support
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medication for pain relief (after consulting with a doctor)
  • Physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint

Physical therapy for a torn rotator cuff is recommended in almost all cases as it plays an integral role in reducing the pain in your shoulder and promoting mobility. With the right rotator cuff tear physical therapy exercises, you will be up and running in no time.

Usually, 8 out of 10 people with moderate rotator cuff tears heal with conservative treatment.   

However, surgery becomes necessary if the tear is severe and does not improve with other physical therapy and other treatment measures.

How Does Physical Therapy for a Torn Rotator Cuff Help?

If you are suffering from a rotator cuff tear, you may be feeling a lot of pain and discomfort. This type of injury can be debilitating, keeping you from performing your everyday activities.

Physical therapy can help relieve the pain and discomfort caused by a rotator cuff tear.

It may include a combination of exercises and stretches. The goal is to improve your shoulder’s range of motion and strength. Exercises will be tailored to your specific needs and abilities to accelerate recovery.

Physical therapists will also provide you with tips on properly using your arm and shoulder to reduce the risk of further injury.

Below are the areas they can help you with:

Condition Evaluation

Before anything else, your physical therapist will evaluate the condition of your shoulder to check its mobility, strength, and posture. They will also assess the performance of the shoulder blade relative to your arm movement.

This evaluation will help the therapist create a customized physical therapy program to ease the tightness and address the areas of weakness. Over the next few days or weeks, you can expect to work with the physical therapist to achieve the set goals.

Integration of Helpful Skills into Activities of Daily Living

While following a routine for rotator cuff tear physical therapy exercises is essential to recovery, it is not all you need to do. No amount of physical therapy will help if your daily habits involve movements that exacerbate your injury.

With limited progress, your recovery will be delayed.

Hence, your physical therapist will work with you to identify any movements your body may have adapted to avoid pain while doing certain activities. Although these movement adaptations help take the pain, it is only temporary.

More importantly, they will set your body up for further pain and injuries to other areas in the longer term. This is why your physical therapist will equip you with the necessary skills to incorporate healthy movements into your routine.

Avoiding Extra Pain and Discomfort

Just because you are suffering from the pain caused by a rotator cuff tear, it does not mean you get time off from work and daily chores. The grind never stops, right?

However, if you continue to engage in daily activities without proper precautions, you may experience additional pain and discomfort. Not to mention, it will hinder your recovery and ultimately compromise your productivity for daily tasks.

This is why physical therapists provide clear instructions on avoiding unnecessary pain by helping you set up a proper workplace where you can maintain a good posture while working on your laptop or computer.

Your physical therapist will also teach you how to engage your shoulder muscles correctly when you bend or lift, carry, or reach out to an item. Their instructions will help promote optimal body movements while keeping pain and discomfort at bay.

Controlling Your Reaction to Pain

Another benefit of physical therapy for a torn rotator cuff is that it helps change how you react to pain.

For example, if you reach overhead with a rotator cuff injury and feel a sharp pain in your shoulder, your brain will automatically associate this movement with pain and discomfort. Next time, you will be apprehensive about repeating the action in anticipation of pain, and if you find yourself in the middle of doing it, you will stop before reaching the painful range of motion.  

Ultimately, you will limit all movements that may trigger pain in your shoulder, which is not healthy at all.

This is where physical therapy comes in – it will rewire your brain to break the connection it has made up between a certain movement and pain. Your physical therapist will help you do all movements safely and in a controlled manner.

Consequently, it won’t be long until you find yourself moving your arm and engaging your shoulder muscles in ways that you previously found painful and discomforting. After regular rotator cuff tear physical therapy exercises, your brain will stop transmitting pain signals when you move the affected arm.

5 Rotator Cuff Tear Physical Therapy Exercises You Should Perform

Rotator cuff tear physical therapy exercises

The following exercises and stretches will help you regain shoulder strength and improve your range of motion on the road to recovery from rotator cuff tears. The best thing is that you can do these exercises at home.

1.   Crossover Arm Stretch

This is one of the best rotator cuff tear physical therapy exercises. It stretches the muscles in your shoulders and the upper back region, helping with upper body flexibility.

Follow the steps below:

  1. Stand upright and leave your shoulders in a relaxed position. Take two to three deep breaths if your muscles still feel stiff.
  2. Raise the affected arm and stretch it across your chest. Keep it below your chin while stretching as far as possible.
  3. Use the other arm to support the affected one by holding its elbow area.
  4. Repeat these steps with the other arm.

While doing this exercise, you should feel the muscles in your affected arm stretching without experiencing any pain. If it hurts, you are stretching it too much.           

2.   Pendulum Swing

This exercise aims to increase the amount of movement in your shoulder.

Follow the steps below:

  1. Stand beside a table, railing, or chair (a steady one) and place the hand of the unaffected arm on it.
  2. Lean forward slightly without rounding your spine.
  3. Allow the injured arm to dangle freely.
  4. Keep moving it forward and back in gentle motions.
  5. Bring the arm to the original position and start moving it side to side.
  6. Next, start moving your arm in a clockwise direction, making small circles.
  7. Repeat the circular movements in an anticlockwise direction.

3.   Standing Row

For this exercise, you will need a stretch band to help enhance your shoulder and arm strength and improve your range of motion.  

Follow the steps below:

  1. Tie the ends of the band to make a big loop.
  2. Attach one loop end to a firm object (for example, a doorknob).
  3. Stand facing the loop and hold the other end in one hand.
  4. Step back until you feel little to no slack in the stretch band.
  5. Bend the affected arm at the elbow at a 90-degree angle. Keep it close to your body.
  6. Pull the elbow back to feel a stretch in your muscles.
  7. Repeat a 2-3 times every day.

4.   External Rotation

As the name suggests, this physical therapy exercise strengthens the external shoulder rotators. It also requires you to get your hands on a stretch band.  

Follow the steps below:

  1. Tie the band at the ends to make a loop.
  2. Attach one end to a doorknob or any other steady object.
  3. Stand at one side of the band and hold it with the hand of your injured arm.
  4. Bend the elbow at 90 degrees without moving it away from your body.
  5. Bring your forearm out away from your body to feel a stretch.
  6. Repeat a 2-3 times every day.

5.   Posterior Stretch

This is another great exercise done as a part of physical therapy for torn rotator cuff as it gives your injured arm a good stretch for better mobility.  

Follow the steps below:

  1. Stand straight and take a few deep breaths. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed.
  2. Use the hand of your unaffected arm to hold the elbow of the injured arm.
  3. Bring up the hand of the injured arm to cross your body and place it on the shoulder of the unaffected arm.
  4. Push the injured arm up slightly with the hand of the unaffected arm until you feel a stretch in your muscles.
  5. Repeat the exercise daily.

Please note that this is not a definitive exercise routine for rotator cuff tears. Your physical therapist will develop a personalized plan with specific exercises and the number of repetitions to suit your condition and preferences. You can also learn about the correct postures and pain management techniques.

You must work closely with your physical therapist to ensure you do all the right exercises with the correct form. If you feel pain performing any stretches, please stop doing them and reach out to the expert.

Overall, rotator cuff tear physical therapy is great for restoring your shoulder to normal function fast. You can get back to your daily activities in just a few days, given that you follow the prescribed exercise program religiously.       

First Things First: Consult an Expert for Rotator Cuff Tear Physical Therapy Exercises  

If you have been diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear, it is important to seek treatment from a physical therapist. Physical therapists are experts in treating shoulder injuries and can help you safely get back to your everyday activities.

Consulting with an expert at the right time can save you from significant pain and decreased mobility. They will develop an individualized treatment plan, including exercises and stretching to help you recover from your injury and eliminate the need for surgery. They may also provide manual therapy techniques to help reduce pain and inflammation in the affected area. Last but not least, they will educate you on how to properly care for your rotator cuff tear to prevent further injury.

Want to learn more about rotator cuff tear physical therapy?

At Specialized Physical Therapy, we have a group of highly qualified and professional physical therapists committed to assisting you on your road to recovery!

Get in touch with us online or call (201) 773-8851 to schedule an appointment.