shoulder painIt’s understandably worrying to be told that you have a tear in one of your shoulder muscles (the rotator cuff).

However, rotator cuff tears are incredibly common with nearly a quarter of the general population having one and only one third of these actually experiencing any pain as a result.

Simply put, having rotator cuff tear without any pain is twice a common as having a tear which causes pain. In fact, the majority of people might not even realise they have one.

What can cause a torn rotator cuff?

You can develop a tear through two main routes. The first is through sudden injury, like a fall or an awkward tackle. The second, and most common cause, is more gradual and happens as a result of accumulative strain in one part of the cuff as it ages along with the rest of your body.

How do you know if you have a rotator cuff tear?

One of the main symptoms is weakness, the extent of which depends on how big the tear is.

If you have a small tear you may struggle with twisting movements of the shoulder. You can test for it like this:

Test for muscles of the rotator cuff

Face a mirror and keeping your elbows bent, move your hands out to the sides. If there is a loss of movement on one side, use your other hand to see if you can move your arm a bit further outwards. If you can achieve a bit more movement with the help from your other arm but you can’t hold it out there on its own, then it’s possible that you have a muscle tear.

Bigger tears lead to difficulty with lifting your arm upwards or out to the side. An ultrasound scan is the most accurate way to determine the size of a tear.

What’s the best treatment?

If your shoulder is painful then in the early stages, you should avoid all activities which aggravate your symptoms. Take medication as often as you need to control your pain and allow your symptoms to settle as quickly as possible.

If your tear happened after an injury or you have a large tear, then you may be offered surgery but physiotherapy treatment is usually very successful if you have a small or medium sized tear.

How long will it take to heal and what are the best exercises?

An experienced physiotherapist will be able to guide you through a safe, effective rehabilitation programme. Initially this is likely to focus on restoring the normal movement in your shoulder joint. The next step is to make sure that the muscles around your shoulder blade are not only strong but that they’re working properly with the other muscles around your shoulder to produce smooth and well- coordinated shoulder movement. A strengthening programme can then be introduced gradually to restore power, speed and precision.

There’s no set time frame for recovery from a rotator cuff tear and your progress should be monitored carefully. Pushing yourself too hard, too soon has the potential to make the tear worse.

If you suspect you might have a rotator cuff tear or you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch,

The Physiofit Team!