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Rotator Cuff Tear Physical Therapy: Is It As Effective As Surgery?

Rotator cuff repair is major surgery, and one that most people want to avoid if possible. A growing number of patients are opting to skip surgery in favor of physical therapy. Still, the question remains, is rotator cuff tear physical therapy as effective as surgery?

The answer depends largely on the severity of the tear and the patient’s willingness to commit to regular physical therapy treatments.

As MRIs and other imaging techniques have gotten more sensitive, more minor rotator cuff tears are being diagnosed each year. These types of rotator cuff tears—the ones that don’t cause severe pain or interfere with a patient’s ability to participate in most recreational activities—are most likely to be successfully treated with physical therapy.

Let’s take a closer look at the types of rotator cuff tears most likely to be treated with physical therapy, and learn how physical therapy interventions can aid in the post-surgery recovery period for patients with larger tears.

What Are Non-Traumatic Rotator Cuff Tears?

The human shoulder is incredibly sensitive to aging, and many people will develop rotator cuff tears without any having a specific event causing the tear. According to some estimates, as

many as one-in-two adults over age 60 will have a rotator cuff tear show up on an MRI. These non-traumatic rotator cuff tears usually don’t interfere with daily activities below shoulder level. Without thinking, people will adapt to the impairments caused by a rotator cuff tear.

It’s rare that non-traumatic rotator cuff tears require surgery. What’s more common is that patients will use rotator cuff tear physical therapy as an alternative treatment solution.

When Can Rotator Cuff Tears Be Treated with Physical Therapy?

When a rotator cuff tear is caused by a traumatic event, you’ll know it. Major falls and accidents cause the types of rotator cuff tears that require treatment right away. These injuries can lead to non-stop shoulder pain and progressive loss of function.

Athletes, in particular, will notice that their physical movements are not as smooth after a rotator cuff tear. Accumulating fluid and calcium deposits can form, which hinder certain motions in the shoulder. Pain and loss of function related to a sports related shoulder injury warrants a consult with an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sport related shoulder injuries.

When a patient with a rotator cuff tear is asymptomatic, then physical therapy treatments are the preferred first step before consulting with a surgeon. Physical therapy is considered to be the conservative approach. Specific exercises, done under the supervision of a physical therapist, can strengthen the shoulder and the surrounding muscles gradually regaining shoulder function. In the event surgery is still required, the time spent in physical therapy positively impacts the postsurgical functional outcomes.

How Are Rotator Cuff Tears Treated in Physical Therapy?

For rotator cuff tear physical therapy to be as effective as surgery, patients must be willing to give their shoulders time to rest, and they should regularly take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication as prescribed by their physician to reduce pain and swelling.

In addition, a physical therapist can recommend a number of exercises targeting the shoulder and upper body. The most common exercises recommended to patients suffering from rotator cuff injuries include those targeting the rotator cuff muscles and gaining movement of the involved shoulder.

Although treatment specifics will vary from patient to patient, on average, most physical therapists recommend eight to 12 weeks physical therapy for non-traumatic tears. If, after this time, the patient is still in pain, then surgical intervention may be discussed.

Twin Boro Physical Therapy: Rehabilitation for Every Age

Twin Boro Physical Therapy has been providing New Jersey residents with access to top-quality physical therapists for more than 38 years. To learn more about the center’s award-winning approach to rotator cuff tear physical therapy, contact the office at1-732-444-3578.

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