This is the third and final part of our series on rotator cuff injuries. Treatment of a rotator cuff injury is dependent upon the severity and cause of the injury. An acute injury will be treated differently from an injury caused by anatomical abnormalities or chronic tendonitis. Most often there is an exercise program involved to improve the strength of the muscles surrounding the shoulder to help protect the shoulder from further damage. If you haven’t already done so, we highly recommend that you read the previous two articles in this series, Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms and Rotator Cuff Injury Diagnosis. Keep reading once you are ready to dive into rotator cuff injury treatment options.
Rotator Cuff Injury Treatment
Here are several options that will most likely come up in your conversation with your doctor about treatment options:
- The doctor will most likely recommend that you rest the shoulder initially and apply ice for 20 minute periods 3 times a day. There are varying beliefs about using ice and heat. Most agree that ice is used in the first 2 days. After that there are those that believe using heat will help to heal the area faster and those that believe continuing to use ice will be best. Which ever recommendation you and your physician agree to, do not mix the two. Either ice or heat but not both. Here is a popular choice on Amazon when it comes to ice or heat rotator cuff injury treatment:
- You can take an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to decrease the pain and swelling in the joint. Do not make the mistake of taking the medication and over using the shoulder because the pain has decreased. Also, do not take medication if you have an allergy or other medical conditions. You should always consult with your doctor before starting a medication that may interfere with other medications you may be taking, including over the counter drugs.
- Once the initial inflammation, swelling and pain have decreased you should be enrolled in a physical therapy program to help strengthen the shoulder and increase the range of motion. Your therapist will give you exercises to do at home with an exercise band that are simple but require consistency to see results. Without therapy you may experience the same symptoms in a rather short amount of time.
- If you have persistent pain and limited mobility your doctor may recommend cortisone injections to help decrease the inflammatory response in the shoulder. If the rotator cuff injury is severe they may recommend a surgical repair so that you can regain much of the range of motion you’ve lost. In some cases the repair will remove a portion of the bone that lies over the rotator cuff area to relieve the pressure on the tendons and ligaments. When the pressure is released the inflammation will decrease and thus healing is encouraged.
- Most patients prefer to have any surgery done arthroscopically – through a small hole in the shoulder – but sometimes a full repair necessitates an open incision. With an open incision there is a greater risk of infection and post surgical complications as well as an increased recovery time. However, when there is a significant tear to the tendon then an open repair is necessary to regain function in the shoulder.
- Rotator cuff injuries are relatively common among women 35-50 and men over 40. As a result of the fast paced lives we lead there is a real tendency to neglect strengthening exercises, stretching and gradual increases in weight lifting. We want results and we want them now. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your joints will accept the challenges that you will upon them. Take the time to stretch, strengthen and move slowly through an intense exercise routine. Use compensatory equipment if you are constantly keeping your hands over your head. And when there are signs of injury or inflammation, don’t ignore them.
Rotator Cuff Injury Treatment
Without treatment for rotator cuff injuries you risk permanently losing full function of the shoulder and arm from rotator cuff disease. Sometimes there is scarring around the shoulder which leads to a restriction in the range of motion of the shoulder or increased pain. It is normal to go through weeks of rehabilitation to improve the function and decrease the pain of a rotator cuff injury. Don’t be discouraged! There is definitely a light at the end of this injury. With vigilant work and consistent therapy you should recover full function, full range of motion and strength in your shoulder.
Before you go, have a look at the additional resources below if you want more information on rotator cuff treatment options and other related information. Also, have a look at the Shoulder Pain Treatment section of our Shop for products that may be able to help you.
AHRQ Comparative Effectiveness Reviews: Comparative Effectiveness of Nonoperative and Operative Treatments for Rotator Cuff Tears
American Family Physician: Management of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome and Rotator Cuff Tears
University of Colorado Hospital: Care and Treatment for Rotator Cuff Injuries