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Rotator cuff tear

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 What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

The rotator cuff is the name for the group of muscles and tendons in your shoulder in which it starts on the shoulder blade, extending over your shoulder, with the tendons anchoring on the upper arm bone and surrounding the ball of the shoulder like a cuff. These muscles are stabilising muscles which hold the ball of the shoulder in the socket by balancing the forces of the bigger shoulder muscles.

A rotator cuff tear is a common cause of shoulder pain, these tears can be acute or chronic although the outcome of the injury is determined by the size and location of the tear.

What causes a rotator cuff tear?

Acute tears are usually caused by an injury or trauma (commonly people do not have pain in the shoulder before this) although chronic rotator cuff tears occur gradually or as people age. Up to 40% of people have rotator cuff tear as they get older as their muscles become weaker, these people do not usually have any pain although may have issues with above head activities.  

Younger people who endure overhead activities for their job or sport are most at risk of injuring their rotator cuff.

Other causes of a rotator cuff tear:

  • Family history
  • Poor blood supply
  • Smoking

How do I know if I have a torn rotator cuff?

If you have a torn rotator cuff you may experience the following:

  • Intense pain in the shoulder and upper arm (only occurs in acute tears)
  • Have difficulty lifting your arm
  • Have a pain arc of pain between 60 and 120o when you lift your arm out by your side
  • Deep & dull ache in the shoulder
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Arm feels weak during simple activities such as reaching for seat beats.

It can be confirmed that you have a torn rotator cuff by going to see you physiotherapist and allowing that to complete a physical examination including a short test. Your physiotherapist or doctor may send you for imaging to confirm your condition, this will allow them to see how large the tear is.

How can physiotherapy help with a torn rotator cuff?

Physiotherapy can help you with a torn rotator cuff by:

  • Prescribing you with an exercise/stretches program that gives you the most effective relief from your symptoms. This may be performed at home
  • Taping your shoulder – If exercises are too painful then your physiotherapist can show you how to decrease and support the torn muscles by taping them.
  • It may be suggested to try dry needling or trigger point therapy to decrease overactivity.

What can I do at home?

It is important to ensure you follow the instructions of your physiotherapist. It is possible to complete the following at home:

  • Elevate you your breast-bone (sternum), which will help to activate your shoulder blade muscles and gradually strengthen them. You may choose to do this exercise as a strengthening exercise by using a elasticised tubing.
  • Initially, it is important to minimise usual activities
  • You will need to use your other arm to lift up the sore arm, this will reduce the risk of a frozen shoulder.  

How long will my recovery be?

In the first 6 weeks of your injury, you will have difficulty sleeping, brushing or touching your hair and putting your seat belt on, as you will have a great deal of pain. Although after this time you will see improvement although still having issues with everyday activities. It is common that you will be able to return to activities after 6 months although some cases take up to 12 months.

If you would like to find out more please call us or book an appointment here.

Back to Physiotherapy for Your Shoulder

Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.