It is almost a daily occurrence now that somebody walks through my doors and says “I have a torn rotator cuff”, or some version of that (i.e. torn rotator cup, rotatory cup, etc.). The next question is usually “does physical therapy actually help with that?” These questions are very common as rotator cuff injuries are the most prevalent shoulder injuries I treat. As I continue to assess and treat these clients, it has become even more clear to me that surgery is often NOT required for these patients to return to their normal, active lifestyle.
Before you stop reading because I said surgery is not required to fix something that you have been told is “torn”, hear me out. First off, I still think there are many instances where a rotator cuff surgery is required. I am writing this blog because I feel a lot of patients are jumping to the surgery route when they could most certainly benefit from physical therapy. This saves time and money and has significantly less risk of serious side effects.
Secondly, the word “tear” is becoming outdated for a non-traumatic rotator cuff impairment. Most rotator cuff “tears” are degenerative, meaning it is something that just naturally occurs over time. People can live their whole life without any pain in their shoulder, give them an MRI later in life, and there may not be much of a rotator cuff left. Having a “torn” rotator cuff can be compared to getting gray hair or wrinkles on your skin. The biggest question to ask is why some hurt, and others do not? That is multifactorial and beyond the scope of this blog.
So, if you have a “torn” rotator cuff, what should you do? There have been numerous studies over the last few decades that show physical therapy is as beneficial, and even more beneficial, than having a rotator cuff surgery. (example) In this study, at a 1-year follow-up, the researchers found that operative management of symptomatic rotator cuff tears was no better than conservative management involving physical therapy alone.
One reason people opt for surgery is that they say “I don’t have time to wait for physical therapy to work”. People must keep in mind that there is a significant amount of lost time with surgery. Both with having the surgery performed, out of work, unable to do activities, home modifications to be done, and the physical therapy for post-op care.
The other reason people opt for surgery, money. Most people believe that going to therapy will end up financially costing them more than surgery. In the aforementioned study, the total financial burden for the physical therapy group for each patient was $2664 and the rotator cuff repair was $6293.
Bottom line, get assessed by a physical therapist who can properly evaluate you and see if you are a candidate for physical therapy. It can save you time, money, and a whole lot more.
Not sure if you are ready for physical therapy? Feel free to check out the free report: 7 QUICK TIPS TO END CHRONIC, NAGGING, DAILY SHOULDER PAIN…WITHOUT MEDICATIONS, INJECTIONS, OR SURGERY