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This edition of our newsletter is focussed on shoulder pain from rotator cuff tears. 

If you’re over the age of 30, and you’re experiencing pain and weakness in your shoulder, you’re probably suffering from a rotator cuff disorder.  Simple everyday activities like changing your clothes or bathing can be made uncomfortable or even impossible.  These significant, but often understated conditions involve irritation of the tendons and muscles that help connect the upper arm bone with the shoulder blade.

Historically, these conditions were thought to primarily involve tendinitis, or inflammation of the tendons, and bursitis, or inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs between tendons and the shoulder blade.  More recently, comprehensive clinical examinations have shown that conditions related to the overuse of tendons are more consistent with muscle tissue degeneration, and often occur in the absence of inflammation.  Also referred to as tendinosis, the causes of tendon or muscle tissue degeneration are often unknown.

Although rotator cuff issues are often caused by the types of repetitive overhead motions used during sports like badminton, tennis and racquetball, they can also be caused by repetitive work-related stress and strain.  Rotator cuff disorders can also be caused by poor posture, acute injury due to falling, or simply due to the everyday muscle and tendon degeneration that accompanies the normal aging process, and wear and tear.

In addition to tendinitis, bursitis and tendinosis, sudden rotator cuff tears after a fall or injury may occur and are associated with debilitating pain and often surgical treatment of the affected rotator cuff.  Unfortunately, the success of surgery is dependent on a variety of factors, and incomplete recovery and a worsening of rotator cuff syndrome pain has been reported to be as high as 23% to 35% of the time.

Fortunately, Physical Therapy for rotator cuff disorders can significantly improve the range of motion and pain management of the affected rotator cuff, especially after surgical treatment.  Depending on the underlying causes and extent of the rotator cuff issue, the following treatment options may be recommended to help improve function and relieve pain:

1. Stretching Exercises. 

A variety of range of motion exercises are used to help exercise muscle groups of the rotator cuff to help promote joint flexibility and to reduce the risks of joint mobility issues.  Stretching exercises include pendulum stretches, which help stretch the area where tendons move; posterior capsule stretches, whim aim to ease the tightness of the ligaments near the back of the shoulder and help to eliminate rotator cuff pain; and wand exercises, which involves improving the range of motion of the shoulder joint.

2. Strengthening Exercises. 

Strengthening muscles of the rotator cuff helps to prevent re-injury.  These exercises include scapular squeezes and setting, inward and outward rotation exercises, and abduction exercises. 

By combining stretching and strengthening exercises into a personalized regimen, Physical Therapists are capable of significantly reducing the recovery time following surgery and greatly increase muscle strength and the range of motion of the affected rotator cuff.  Although a variety of exercises will be recommended for patients to complete at home, studies have shown that the specialized supervision of a trained Physical Therapist allows for a significantly better recovery after rotator cuff surgery.

For more information on how Physical Therapy can effectively help those with rotator cuff disorders, please contact the trained and licensed Physical Therapists at Stellar Physical Therapy.  We would be pleased to examine your shoulder, and develop a personalized physical therapeutic treatment plan that specifically addresses your needs.  

Read more on rotator cuff tears here. 


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