We use our shoulders in many of our activities, from our daily routines and work to leisure and sports. The load they carry on a daily basis makes them more susceptible to injuries like a rotator cuff tear.
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles in your shoulder that keeps the upper arm (humerus) attached to the socket of your shoulder blade (scapula). Although your rotator cuff can withstand constant overhead motion, it is vulnerable to trauma, overuse, and the wear and tear that comes with age.
Treatment and Recovery
A rotator cuff injury is not a life-threatening complication, but it can trigger pain whenever you move your arm, significantly limiting your range of movement. The pain typically gets worse at night when you’re trying to sleep, especially when you lie on your affected side. Fortunately, various treatment options make it possible for you to recover from the injury.
For mild cases of rotator cuff tears, your doctor will prescribe conservative treatments such as getting adequate rest, icing the injury, and physical therapy to repair the damaged tendon. To hasten your recovery and prevent your injury from getting worse, it’s important to practice good posture and follow your doctor’s instructions.
Likewise, remember to take your medications as directed by your provider. Inform him/her if the medication you are taking has side effects or is not effective.
There are different approaches to rotator cuff repair. Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive surgical option where precise incisions on your shoulder are made through an arthroscope, a small and narrow tube with a camera at the end. Your surgeon can view the insides of the joint allowing him/her to either diagnose or treat the tear.
In open surgery, the doctor makes a bigger incision and uses regular surgical instruments to repair the damage. Mini-open surgery, on the other hand, is a cross between arthroscopy and open surgery. Your doctor uses an arthroscope for the initial part of the surgery but cuts an opening large enough to use traditional surgical instruments.
Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation
Physical therapy is a crucial part of your rotator cuff tear recovery plan. Whether you had surgical or nonsurgical treatment, it can improve your chances of a full recovery.
Depending on the severity of your injury and the extent of the treatment, you may spend around 4–6 weeks wearing a sling to minimize tension in the affected area, speeding up the recovery process.
It’s common to feel postoperative stiffness and discomfort in the shoulder area after treatment. Moreover, keeping your shoulder immobile for an extended period can result in a frozen shoulder where the connective tissue around the joint tightens due to lack of use.
Physical therapy plays an essential part in improving your circulation and regaining your normal range of motion. Once you regain some function in your shoulder, you should start exercising your shoulder gently by following the customized rehabilitation plan drawn up by your doctor and physical therapist.
Postoperative Exercise Plan
The exercise plan will be divided into phases and gradually increase in intensity as you improve your strength, flexibility, coordination, and mobility. The initial stage begins with passive stretching exercises designed to promote healing while preventing stress and pain. In this phase, your physical therapist is likely to assist you through gentle joint oscillations.
The next phase focuses on improving your active range of motion and usually occurs 4–8 weeks after surgery. This timeframe is an estimate and can change depending on your condition and progress. During this phase, your doctor may allow active assisted range of motion and active range of motion exercises to restore muscle strength and establish neuromuscular control.
The third and fourth phases will focus on strengthening exercises. The third phase typically begins 8–12 weeks after the surgery and may feature isotonic and light closed chain stability exercises. You can use elastic resistance to stretch your upper extremities. Conventional bicep curls and triceps extension exercises may also be done to increase muscle activation.
Approximately 12–16 weeks after the surgery, you can proceed to the advanced strengthening phase. The previously torn rotator cuff can now endure greater pressure and stress compared to the previous phases. Depending on your doctor and therapist’s advice, you may also transition to sport-specific rehabilitation activities.
As you progress, your medical provider will add and take out exercises depending on which stage you are in your recovery. Follow the rehabilitation plan to the letter and do not move to the next phase without your doctor’s approval.
Rotator Cuff Tear Treatments in Maryland
Rehabilitation will depend on the extent of your injury and the treatment you receive, and heeding your doctor’s instructions is crucial for a full recovery.
Our highly trained specialists here at the Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland can diagnose and treat a wide range of shoulder conditions, including rotator cuff tears. We assure you that you will receive quality patient-centered care from our orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists. They will craft a personalized treatment plan to safely restore you to full function.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, call us at (410) 644-1880 or (855) 4MD-BONE. You can also fill out our online appointment request form. We look forward to helping you move through life with ease and comfort.