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How Occupational Therapy Can Help Patients with Torn Rotator Cuff

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Age is just a number — it’s easy to say this when you are well and aging has not affected your bodily functions yet. Unfortunately for some people, wear and tear of the body may manifest in different ways. One of the most common conditions to come with age is a rotator cuff injury. This type of shoulder joint injury can also result from physical trauma. 

In this post, your trusted Miami occupational therapist will share everything you need to know about rotator cuff tears, as well as the available treatments, including non surgical rotator cuff treatment options. We will also shed light on the benefits of occupational therapy for rotator cuff tears.


What Is the Rotator Cuff?

The rotator cuff is the name for the group of muscles and tendons that make up the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons ensure that the head of your upper arm bone is firmly attached in the shoulder socket. 

When the rotator cuff is strong and stable, it allows for movement and motion so that a person can do different tasks using the arms and hands. This body part, however, is prone to injuries due to degeneration among older adults or trauma, especially for those with an active lifestyle. 

It’s also a common sore spot for people whose jobs entail repetitive use and forceful movement of their shoulder joints, such as those in construction industries.


What Is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

A rotator cuff tear occurs when any of the muscles and tendons in the rotator cuff is torn or ripped. There are two kinds of rotator cuff tear: partial and complete tear.

In a partial rotator cuff tear, only one of the muscles forming the rotator cuff is torn or damaged. On the other hand, a complete tear is an injury that goes all the way through the tendon. In more severe cases, the tendon may be pulled off the bone. This type of rotator cuff tear is also referred to as full-thickness tear.



source: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/rotator-cuff-tears/ 


What Causes a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Rotator cuff tears and injuries commonly occur when a person ages. Because the muscles and tendons weaken over time, it’s easier for them to be injured. However, younger people can also experience rotator cuff tearing. Individuals whose work and activities require repetitive overhead motions, such as painting and construction, are more at risk of injuring their rotator cuffs. Moreover, an accident can also cause trauma to the shoulder and its components. 

In general, there are some risk factors that determine one’s susceptibility to having a rotator cuff tear. These include:

  • Age

Developing a rotator cuff tear is common for people aged 60 and above.

  • Occupation 

People whose jobs require them to make repetitive overhead motions are also at risk of experiencing rotator cuff tears.

  • Bone spurs. 

Some people may have bone overgrowth in their shoulders. The bone spurs can wear away the tissues in the rotator cuff, causing tears over time.

  • Athletics

Some sports, such as weightlifting, rowing, tennis, and baseball, can stress the rotator cuff.

  • Blood supply disruption 

The rotator cuff area may get less blood flow as a person ages. As a result, small tears don’t heal sufficiently and lead to bigger tears.

  • Family history 

Experts think that being prone to rotator cuff tears could have a hereditary factor.


How Is a Rotator Cuff Tear Diagnosed?

It’s necessary to get the right diagnosis to ensure timely and proper rotator cuff tear treatment in Miami. This is also important to help your doctor and therapist to determine whether occupational therapy for rotator cuff tear is right for you, or if you need to look at other treatment options.

To know if you have a rotator cuff tear, the specialist will evaluate your medical history and symptoms. He or she will find out if you recently had an accident that may have led to your symptoms. They will also interview you about your family’s medical history to check if you could be susceptible to rotator cuff tearing.

Moreover, the doctor or therapist will perform a physical examination of your shoulders. They may also require any of the following tests to better evaluate your shoulder and its components’ condition:

  • X-ray. This is done to see if the top arm bone is pushing into your rotator cuff.
  • MRI. This is done to acquire a detailed imagery of the shoulder.
  • Ultrasound. This is done to see the soft tissues in the shoulder.


Prevalence of Rotator Cutoff Injuries

Rotator cuff tears accounted for 50% of shoulder issues in 50-year-olds and 66% in 60-year-olds, according to a study in the Journal of Orthopaedics. In the United States, at least two million people go to their doctor for pain relief for a torn rotator cuff, per the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

occupational therapy for rotator cuff


What Are the Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear? How Do I Know If I Have Damaged My Rotator Cuff?

The most symptomatic indication that the rotator cuff may be torn is a pain in the shoulders even when the patient is not doing anything. Sometimes a torn rotator cuff won’t immediately manifest pain, but the patient may experience:

  • Weakness in the arms or hands that gradually worsens
  • Locking of the injured shoulder, thus making movements stiff or difficult
  • A cracking or popping sensation when the patient tries to move his arms or shoulders
  • Extreme pain when trying to raise the arms above the head

It’s vital to see a doctor when you experience any of these signs. If a rotator cuff tear is not diagnosed, it could lead to arthritis or a frozen shoulder, which are longer and harder to treat.


What Are the Treatment Options for a Rotator Cuff Tear?

There are several surgical and non surgical rotator cuff tear treatment options available and your doctor or therapist may combine them depending on the severity of your shoulder’s condition. However, in general, they should prioritize non surgical treatments, especially for partial rotator cuff tears. These non surgical rotator cuff treatment methods include:

1. Physical or Occupational Therapy

Proper and regular physical and occupational therapy for a rotator cuff tear can make the shoulder muscles become stronger.

2. Medications

Anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relief medications such as acetaminophen can help relieve and treat pain and swelling.

3. Sufficient Rest

It will be recommended that you get enough rest to ensure that your rotator cuff heals faster.

4. At-Home Exercises

These will support the physical and occupational therapy sessions to ensure continuity of proper exercise and movement of the rotator cuff.

5. Steroid Injections

In some cases, the doctor may recommend the administration of steroid injections for immediate pain relief.

If these non surgical treatments alone do not work to improve your condition, surgical treatment for your rotator cuff tear may be required.

In some cases, the rotator cuff tear is caused by a single injury. On the other hand, some patients who have not received adequate treatment for their rotator cuff tear may already have an advanced and complete tear. In these circumstances, the doctor may look at the possibility of a surgery. There are also cases where the tear can no longer be fixed. As such, tendon or joint replacement may be recommended.


Types of Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery

If surgery is necessary, then the doctor will decide which type of surgery you need based on the severity of the tear. Below are the general types of rotator cuff tear surgery:

  • Arthroscopic surgery. In this type of rotator cuff surgery, the surgeon makes a small incision in the shoulder and uses an arthroscope, a tube with a camera and small tools, to fix the tear.
  • Open surgery. This is the traditional surgery where the doctor makes a larger incision.
  • Mini-open surgery. This combines arthroscopic and open surgery techniques.
  • Tendon transfer surgery. If the patient’s tendon is too damaged to repair, the doctor may get a portion of a nearby tendon and replace the damaged one.
  • Shoulder replacement surgery. In this procedure, the entire shoulder joint is replaced.


Occupational Therapy Treatment for Rotator Cuff Tears

Occupational therapy for rotator cuff tears is one of the most effective rehabilitation, or treatment methods for rotator cuff injury. It aims to relieve the pain as well as restore the shoulders and arms’ range of motion. Your occupational therapist may include the following interventions for a torn rotator cuff:

  • Exercises to help strengthen the muscles 
  • Exercises to improve body posture, which also helps with muscle flexibility
  • Guidance and tips on joint and soft tissue mobilization
  • Education and information on the proper posture and body mechanics to minimize rotator cuff injuries in the future
  • Application of modalities, such as iontophoresis and electrical stimulation to stimulate the nerves

Occupational therapists usually assess the patient’s shoulder before carrying out any therapy or treatment. Progress in the first month might be slow, especially if the patient had shoulder surgery. This is because the occupational therapist will usually not proceed with active therapy if there is still inflammation on the rotator cuff.

After the 5th-6th week of recovery, the patient can move from passive to active occupational therapy and do exercises that are tailored to his needs. By the 12th week of therapy, the patient and the therapist can work on strengthening the shoulder joints as well as preventive maintenance techniques. 


Can a Rotator Cuff Tear Heal On Its Own?

Without the combination of proper treatment and occupational therapy, your shoulder may not completely heal. Although rest is necessary to make healing faster, it is not enough to make sure that the rotator cuff tear heals completely. As such, it is highly recommended that you seek immediate medical attention if you feel that something is not right with your shoulder and arm.




What Happens If a Torn Rotator Cuff Goes Untreated?

A rotator cuff tear can grow larger or extend over time, especially if you continue to make repetitive movements with your shoulder or if it gets injured again. As the rotator cuff tear grows, the pain will also worsen. You may also feel acute pain more frequently.

Furthermore, if you don’t get proper treatment and occupational therapy for a rotator cuff tear, it may lead to weakness and worse, a permanent loss of motion. In some cases, the connective tissues thicken and tighten up, resulting in a frozen shoulder.


Worth remembering:

If you have injured your shoulder in any way, or if you have been experiencing chronic shoulder pain (which may be accompanied by arm pain), do not delay seeing a doctor and therapist. This is the only way to get proper diagnosis, which is the first step in treatment and recovery. 

Whether you get rotator cuff surgery or not, occupational therapy will be helpful in allowing your joints to function normally again after an injury. This is a crucial step in your rehabilitation process if you want to regain independence and be able to do everyday activities without using any device or needing assistance.


Hands on Therapy – Best Occupational Therapy in the Miami area

With a highly qualified and experienced team of occupational therapists offering topnotch physical therapy and hand therapy in Miami, Hands on Therapy is your partner in achieving optimal rotator cuff tear treatment Miami. 

Since rotator cuff rehabilitation can be extremely complex, depending on the severity and extent of injury, the patient’s recovery could take a couple of months. But, with regular and consistent occupational therapy, the recovery process becomes faster. The earlier the treatment and rehabilitation process begins, the faster you’ll return to good health.

The treatment provided at our occupational therapy clinic in Doral leads to pain relief, shorter treatment duration, improved treatment results, and decreased indirect expenses resulting from the injury. 

If you are struggling with shoulder, neck pain or hand pain, including torn rotator cuff, mallet fingercarpal tunnel syndrome, or any other hand, elbow or shoulder injuries, schedule an appointment, OR Request a Free  Discovery Visit.

In these difficult times, we are here to help. Telehealth and online sessions are available!

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The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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