The shoulder has the amazing ability to move in all directions with a large degree of motion compared to other joints in the body. An integral part of this ability is the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff consists of four muscles and their tendons that work together to allow proper biomechanical movement of the shoulder.
The rotator cuff is comprised of the tendons of four muscles:
- Teres major
These muscles all surround and attach to the shoulder, allowing for increased mobility and flexibility of the joint. These muscles also help provide stability to the shoulder to help it remain aligned in its socket. The dual functions of the rotator cuff permit proper mechanics at the ball and socket joint. Unfortunately, the shoulder is prone to muscle tears from overuse and trauma.
A rotator cuff tear can occur if the tendons of the cuff are continuously inflamed and weakened through a repeated motion of the shoulder. Over time, an already compromised tendon can eventually sustain a partial or a full thickness tear. These injuries are common in athletes who perform overhead activities, such as swimmers, quarterbacks, and baseball players. In addition, women over 40 years old have an increased risk of developing a tear. A direct trauma to the shoulder may also lead to a tear, as in falling on an outstretched arm.
Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury may include pain, swelling and restricted movement of the shoulder joint. Rotator cuff tears can be treated conservatively through Physical Therapy with great results. When a rotator cuff tear is large enough, too painful, and interferes with completing daily activities surgery may be needed.
If it is decided that surgery is needed, physical therapy is essential to successful recovery. You will work with a therapist who will create a personalized therapy program tailored to your situation. Physical therapy will include strengthening/stretching exercises, postural assessment, and modalities. The rehab process can take six months to a year and requires full commitment on the part of the patient during the office sessions as well as continuing the exercises at home. The goal is for the physical therapist to work closely with you so you may return to your functional/recreational activities as soon as possible.