Physical Therapy Treatments For Rotator Cuff Tears

Physical Therapy Treatments For Rotator Cuff Tears | Capitol Physical Therapy | Washington DC Physical Therapists

Injuries to the rotator cuff are pretty common, as the shoulder is supported by a relatively small muscle group and one that we use a lot.

These injuries are usually either due to accident or trauma during activities such as heavy lifting or sports, or from repeated overuse.

While not always painful, a rotator cuff injury can cause you to lose function in the arm and shoulder for an extended period of time.

If you find yourself with a rotator cuff injury then the best thing is to seek sports injury physical therapy from a physical therapist at Capitol Physical Therapy.

Let’s look in more detail about the symptoms and causes of rotator cuff tears.

What Is Your Rotator Cuff?

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that support the shoulder.

These muscles and tendons in your shoulder work together to stabilize and move your joint.

The rotator cuff runs from the top of your upper arm bone (the humerus) to the shoulder blade.

What Is A Rotator Cuff Tear?

A rotator cuff tear falls into one of three categories:

  • Rotator cuff strains & tears: when the tendons connecting the muscles stretch or tear as a result of an accident or a fall.
  • Tendinitis: inflammation of the rotator cuff due to overuse, a common injury in tennis players and other sports that use repetitive shoulder motion.
  • Bursitis: inflammation of the bursa, which are the fluid-filled sacs located between the tendons of your rotator cuff and your shoulder bones.

A rotator cuff tear is classified as either a full-thickness tear, which extends through the whole muscle/tendon, or partial thickness tear, which affects part of the cuff but does not extend all the way through.

Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms

Here are some of the symptoms of a rotator cuff injury:

  • A progressive feeling of weakness or heaviness in the arm or shoulder
  • Pain on the top of the shoulder that runs down the outside of the arm
  • Pain or tenderness when reaching overhead
  • Loss of full range of motion of the shoulder, including the inability to lift the arm above the head or to reach behind the back
  • Difficulty sleeping on the affected side and increased pain in the shoulder at night

A rotator cuff tear does not always cause pain, depending on the severity and the type of tear.

There are two categories of tear: acute or chronic.

What Causes Acute Rotator Cuff Tear?

An acute rotator cuff tear is the result of a particular accident or sudden trauma.

The tear could occur when you attempt to lift something very heavy.

It could also be the result of a fall where the shoulder joint is forced into an awkward position.

Acute rotator cuff tears are more common among young people.

What Causes Chronic Rotator Cuff Tear?

A chronic rotator cuff tear develops over time due to overuse or abuse.

Repetitive strain to the shoulder joint where the arm is above the shoulder for extended periods, such as, for example, throwing a ball, leads to chronic rotator cuff injury.

Athletes are more at risk of chronic rotator cuff tears.

Aging is also a factor, as chronic rotator cuff tears are more common among people over 40.

This makes rotator cuff tears a physical therapy for seniors health issue.

how a physical therapist can help with a rotator cuff tear | Capitol Physical Therapy | Washington DC Physical Therapists

Physical Therapy Treatment For Rotator Cuff Tears

Treatment for a rotator cuff tear can range from resting the muscle to surgery.

But if you have been diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear, it’s best to get a physical therapist involved.

Your physical therapist will work with you to improve symptoms and slow the development of chronic injury.

For acute injuries, your physical therapist will help you to manage your pain and prepare you for recovery.

In chronic cases, physical therapy serves to improve how your shoulder works, restoring range of motion and preventing a more serious condition from developing.

Your physical therapist may use any of the following methods to help improve your symptoms:

  • Use of a sling to limit arm movements
  • Application of hot or cold therapy to reduce swelling
  • Teaching you modifications to your physical activity to improve symptoms
  • Exercises to restore range of motion
  • Exercises to improve strength to the affected shoulder
  • Dry needling

Phases Of Physical Therapy Rotator Cuff Tear Recovery

If your injury is severe and you require surgery, it’s recommended you work with a physical therapist during your recovery.

The phases of recovery are as follows:

Phase I

Maximal protection of the affected shoulder, including keeping the arm in a sling at all times.

You may need assistance doing simple tasks such as bathing or preparing meals.

Your physical therapist will teach you some gentle range of motion exercises.

Gentle massage, cold compression, or electrical stimulation to the area may be used by your physical therapist as well as a pain management physical therapy treatment.

Phase II

Moderate protection of the affected shoulder as movements are introduced to improve mobility.

You’ll still wear a sling, but not all of the time.

Your physical therapist will introduce exercises to strengthen your core and shoulder blade muscles.

You may begin to use your arm again for simple tasks, but no heavy lifting.

Phase III

In the third phase, the focus shifts to restoring balance to your body by improving muscle strength to the affected side.

Your physical therapist may recommend a modified weight lifting program as well.

You may regain full use of your arm, but still be unable to return to work or regular sporting activities, avoiding all strenuous activity on the affected side.

Phase IV

In the final phase you will work closely with your physical therapist as you return to work or sports.

This includes practicing the type of activities you need to do with your physical therapist present to instruct you.

Your physical therapist will help you build muscle strength as well, while learning how to safely protect the area and avoid further injury.

Book Your Appointment With Capitol Physical Therapy Today

If you have been diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear, whether acute or chronic, then physical therapy will help you return to full strength, while alleviating your symptoms along the way.

If you are recovering from surgery, working with a physical therapist will speed up your recovery process.

Contact Capitol Physical Therapy today and let us help you get back to full health.

Capitol Physical Therapy
1331 H St NW #200,
Washington, DC 20005


9560 Pennsylvania Ave. # 202,
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772


Capitol Physical Therapy offers orthopedic and other pain related solutions, with our versitile team of physical therapists in Washington, DC