Rotator cuff injuries are very common, especially for those who use their arm in a repetitive motion, those who do heavy lifting, and those who are over 40. To properly recover from this injury and avoid surgery, you must listen to your Physical Therapist and follow the plan of care that has been customized for you so that you can heal. It is important to strengthen and increase the flexibility of the muscles surrounding the shoulder. It is equally important to rest and use ice to keep these muscles receptive to the therapy.
Your Rotator Cuff Muscles
Understanding about this injury will enable you to understand and accept the treatment plan that will be put into place so that you can heal.
Your shoulder is made up of three bones: your upper arm bone, your shoulder blade, and your collarbone. The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. The ball of your upper arm fits into the socket of your shoulder blade. Your arm is kept in this socket by your rotator cuff. The rotator cuff consists of four muscles and their tendons that stabilize the shoulder. These are the muscles that allow you to rotate your shoulder. Your shoulders allow you to do many things that are taken for granted: lifting your arms above your head, combing your hair, playing catch, reaching into the back seat of your car, and swimming…just to name a few. There is also a sac called a bursa that allows your arm to move freely. When the rotator cuff is injured or damaged, the bursa becomes inflamed and painful which will be diagnosed as bursitis. “Itis” means inflammation.
A ‘torn’ rotator cuff means you have torn though one or more of the four muscles or tendons. Typical signs for this kind of injury would be pain. Any shoulder pain should never be ignored. When diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury, a tear is not always the case. You might have strained the muscle or tendon. If you do not get therapy for the strain, it could lead to a tear. Torn rotator cuffs have swelling and loss of full range of motion. If you cannot raise your arm half as far as you used to before the pain started, there is something seriously wrong.
Physical Therapy improves strength, flexibility, and range of motion. Therapy will help alleviate the pain, and your therapist will work with you using light weights, but you must continue your plan of care to achieve optimal results to be pain and surgery free. Your therapist will give you all the tools to work at home safely so you do not hurt yourself. It is important to remember that this is not a ‘workout’ but a strengthening process. Keeping your shoulder immobilized (without movement) for prolonged periods of time can lead to the thickening and tightening of the the connective tissue causing further complications (frozen shoulder). It is important to not only strengthen and exercise the front muscles, but you must work the entire shoulder area, front and back, to get and keep your muscles balanced. It is imperative that stretching and strengthening is done every day at home and not only when you are at the therapy office so that you can gain your range of motion back.
Some key factors to remember while you are working to heal your shoulder injury:
- Consult your therapist to use the correct weight
- Always use light weights
- Use the warm up routine provided by your therapist before each session
- Remember this is therapy and not a workout
- Patience is needed as you undergo healing
- Consult with your therapist if you wish to use resistance bands
- Resistance bands come in different degrees, and you want to be sure you are not overdoing it
- Ice your shoulder after every therapy session and make sure to get adequate rest
- You are still able to do lower body exercises, but you must make sure your shoulders are not involved at all
- A rotator cuff injury is serious, but it is not one that cannot heal with proper therapy and patience
- Slow and steady always wins the race!