Shoulder injuries are far too common in the workplace and during athletic activity, and having pain or limited mobility in the joint can make daily activities difficult. One of the most common types of shoulder injuries that we see on a regular basis is the rotator cuff injury. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at this group of muscles, and we explain how a physical therapist can help you recover after damage to the area.
Understanding Rotator Cuff Injuries
Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons that connect the upper arm bone to the shoulder blade. Their main function is providing stability to the shoulder joint, but this process becomes more difficult if these muscles become inflamed, irritated or injured. Injuries to the rotator cuff are typically classified as either “partial thickness” or “full thickness” depending on their severity:
- Partial Thickness – Partial thickness rotator cuff tears affect a portion of the muscle or tendon, but do not extend all the way through.
- Full Thickness – Full thickness tears involve a complete top to bottom tear of the muscle or tendon.
Both of these tears tend to develop due to either acute or chronic stress. In other words, a basketball player may suffer a rotator cuff tear in an acute fashion when diving for a loose ball, whereas a construction worker may develop the same injury as a result of chronic overuse of the shoulder over the years on the jobsite. Even though they can develop in different ways, acute or chronic injuries can each lead to partial or full thickness tears.
Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:
- Shoulder pain, especially on the top of the shoulder or down the outside of the arm
- Shoulder weakness
- Loss of range of motion in the shoulder
- Arm heaviness
- Inability to reach your arm above a certain point or behind your back
How A PT Can Help
If you’ve suffered a shoulder injury and the symptoms are in line with what’s described above, your best bet may be to skip the meeting with your physician and head straight to a physical therapist’s office. We’ll conduct some physical examinations and movement tests to look for rotator cuff weakness. We can also use some imaging tools to provide an inside look at the muscles and tendons to pinpoint the exact location of the tear if necessary. However, we can oftentimes get a pretty good gauge without the imaging tests, which saves you time and money.
If we’re confident that you’re plagued by a rotator cuff tear, we’ll talk to you about your options and our goals. In most instances, patients are asked to try conservative care before opting for surgery in mild to moderate cases. The most common conservative care technique is physical therapy, which will involve a combination of exercises to protect and strengthen the injured area. We’ll also discuss how daily activities can be modified and which actions should be avoided so you can still perform some tasks safely while you’re working through your recovery. Your PT can walk you through the specific exercises and activity modifications you’ll need based on your specific situation.
If surgery becomes necessary, you’ll still go through a similar course of physical therapy after the operation. Again, the goal of PT is to allow for safe healing while also working to strengthen the injured areas and the nearby supportive structures. Our staff is highly trained in all things shoulder, so we can pass on our knowledge and ensure you have all the tools you need to make a full recovery after your rotator cuff surgery.
So if you’ve been plagued by daily shoulder discomfort or you’ve had pain in the area ever since you suffered an acute shoulder injury, consider syncing up with a physical therapist. We can help you regain mobility and function in your rotator cuff and get you back to performing daily movements without pain. For more information, reach out to the team at OrthoRehab Specialists today.
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