Physiotherapy for Rotator Cuff Injuries

Physiotherapy is the best available option for any type of rotator cuff injury

Most athletes and sports fans have at least heard about the rotator cuff, which is likely because of how often it’s injured. Rotator cuff injuries occur frequently in a number of sports and in older adults, which leaves many patients unable to use their shoulder normally. But physiotherapy is the best solution to address any rotator cuff issue that may come about.

The rotator cuff consists of four muscles and their associated tendons, which connect the upper arm bone (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula). These tendons form a “cuff” around the head of the humerus, and all the muscles work together to control and stabilize the shoulder. As a ball-and-socket joint, the rotator cuff helps secure the “ball” portion of the joint—the humerus—while allowing the arm to lift and rotate within the “socket,” or scapula.

Nearly every time you move your arm, you’re engaging the rotator cuff, and this frequent use is primarily why it’s a problem area. Injuries to the rotator cuff are most common in people who repeatedly perform overhead motions like painters, carpenters, and athletes involved in tennis, baseball, and swimming. When any of these activities are performed regularly for a long period of time, the rotator cuff tendons eventually become overstrained and damaged or inflamed. This also tends to occur as a natural part of aging, which is why rotator cuff problems are frequently seen in adults over the age of 40.

Rotator cuff tendinitis—or shoulder impingement—is one of the most common issues in this region. It’s defined by irritation of a rotator cuff tendon that usually occurs gradually over time, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty raising or lowering the arm. Tears of the rotator cuff are also extremely common. Some tears occur immediately due to a sudden injury like falling on an outstretched arm or lifting something that’s too heavy, but most develop gradually due to a tendon wearing down from repeated use. Pain and weakness when trying to lift or lower the arm are the hallmark signs of a rotator cuff tear, which can make many daily activities quite difficult.

Physiotherapy and surgery lead to similar outcomes for rotator cuff tears

Regardless of what type of rotator cuff issue is present, physiotherapy is the best means to get you back to full functionality. Even if a tear is present, research has shown that physiotherapy is just as effective as surgery and can lead to similar outcomes for some patients. Treatment programs for rotator cuff injuries will vary based on the seriousness of the injury and several other factors, but most will include the following components:

  • Stretching exercises: not moving the rotator cuff because of pain will make it stiffer and less flexible, so these exercises will address those limitations
  • Strengthening exercises: since weakness is also common in rotator cuff injuries, we will work with each patient to gradually build back their shoulder strength
  • Passive treatments: ice, heat, ultrasound, and other interventions may be applied to the shoulder to alleviate pain and other symptoms
  • Activity modification: your therapist will educate you on how to avoid positions and movements that can aggravate your pain and make your condition worse, like sleeping on your side and carrying heavy loads

If shoulder pain has been bogging you down and you think a rotator cuff injury may be present, we can help by getting you started on a physiotherapy program immediately. Contact us to learn more or to make an appointment today.