The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles and their tendons (tissues that attach muscles to bones), which connect the upper arm bone, or humerus, to the shoulder blade. The role of the rotator cuff is to keep the shoulder joint stable. Sometimes, the rotator cuff becomes inflamed or irritated due to heavy lifting, repetitive arm movements, or trauma such as a fall. A rotator cuff tear occurs when injuries to the muscles or tendons cause tissue damage or disruption.
Rotator cuff tears are called either "full thickness" or "partial thickness," depending on how severe they are.
- Full-thickness tears extend from the top to the bottom of a rotator cuff muscle/tendon.
- Partial-thickness tears affect at least some portion of a rotator cuff muscle/tendon, but do not extend all the way through.
At our office, we put our patients through a series of movement tests to differentiate between a full thickness and partial thickness tear. If the tear is a partial thickness tear, we have a track record of helping our patients alleviate pain, restore movement, and get back to activity again.
In many cases, rotator cuff problems are associated with poor mobility of the lats and the t-spine. This can be combined with the weakness of the lats, rhomboids, rotator cuff, and lower and middle trapezius muscles. In addition, if there are imbalances at the core and buttock muscles, posture and movement are affected which may lead to faulty shoulder mechanics.
We can identify what structures are contributing to a rotator cuff problem by performing a thorough assessment.
Once we know what the specific limitations are, our first recommendation that we usually make is to take a short break from any aggravating activity (e.g. overhead lifting, high speed, and high impact upper body exercises). This allows for an environment for irritation to settle down and healing to take place. While taking a break usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they enjoy, we have to address the root of the issue.
When pain and stiffness are found via our assessment, our approach includes hands-on therapy to alleviate pain. Pain improvements can be made very quickly by working on the soft tissues and/or dry needling of the lat, upper trap, and rotator cuff muscles.
If weakness is found, we teach targeted exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients proper lifting technique with and without weights.
When addressed with a thorough physical therapy assessment and plan of care, overcoming a rotator cuff tear without surgery is possible. However, ignoring pain and engaging in repetitive painful activity might lead to a full-thickness tear. If you have shoulder pain and are concerned that you may have a rotator cuff problem, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you.
We have a free guide on relieving shoulder pain that can give you further insight into shoulder problems and help kickstart your recovery. We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options.
If you're considering physical therapy, we offer a limited number of free in-person Discovery Visits and Virtual Consultations. This type of appointment is for those who are interested in getting help. It is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your condition, and develop confidence that we can help you prior to investing in your health.
If you’re certain that we’re a good fit and ready to book an appointment, you can request a shoulder consultation and get the process started.
If you have questions regarding cost and availability, click the link so you can have all your questions answered before booking an appointment.
If you’re in pain and unsure about what your next steps should be, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.