Rotator cuff injuries are commonly associated with athletes in sports like baseball and tennis where you move your arm in specific motions over and over. However, it is also possible to tear your rotator cuff even if you aren’t a famous athlete. We rely on our shoulders for so many daily activities, from reaching up to pick something off of a shelf to brushing your teeth. A torn rotator cuff can significantly impact your ability to move your arm without experiencing pain or weakness. The rotator cuff is what protects your shoulder joint so you can move your arms around and up over your head. When any part of the rotator cuff is damaged it requires treatment as soon as possible. Many people are interested in torn rotator cuff treatment without surgery for a more conservative approach.
How Your Shoulder Joint Works
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint that allows for a wide range of motion and the rotator cuff is what protects the ball of your arm bone that connects to the shoulder socket. Muscles and tendons make up the rotator cuff, which provides stability, strength, and flexibility to the area. There are four muscles and tendons that make up the rotator cuff and allow you to hold your arm out, rotate it, and lower it.
Causes of a Torn Rotator Cuff
There are two main causes of a torn rotator cuff: sudden injury or wear and tear. A sudden fall where you land on your shoulder and arm might cause a tear in your rotator cuff. It is also possible to tear your rotator cuff when trying to lift something too heavy. However, a torn rotator cuff is also commonly caused by general wear and tear on the body, specifically the shoulder joint. This type of degenerative tear typically occurs when you repeat the same movements in your arms and shoulders over and over again, like in certain sports or with activities like painting.
As you age, your risk for a torn rotator cuff goes up because less blood flows to the area, bone spurs may develop, and general wear and tear affects the integrity of your muscles and tendons. Certain occupations also put people at a higher risk for a torn rotator cuff, like painters, construction workers, and roofers who often employ repetitive motions with their arms and shoulders. A rotator cuff tear can be partial, meaning one of the muscles or tendons may become damaged, or complete, meaning the tendon is removed from the bone.
Torn Rotator Cuff Symptoms
With wear and tear on the body, you might not notice you have a torn rotator cuff right away. In fact, some people don’t even realize they have a torn rotator cuff at all until certain symptoms reoccur or get worse over time, like difficulty raising your arm without pain or discomfort. Torn rotator cuff pain typically occurs on the front of your shoulder and may radiate through your arm. This type of pain may be more common when you are doing activities that involve reaching up or lifting something over your head.
Some people with a torn rotator cuff may experience more pain at night if they sleep on or otherwise put too much pressure on that arm and shoulder. Clicking and popping sounds coming from the shoulder joint may also be a sign that you have a torn rotator cuff. More serious symptoms of a torn rotator cuff, like stiffness and inflammation, can cause chronic pain and affect your ability to perform once-normal daily tasks. An injury that causes a rotator cuff tear, especially a complete tear, may cause severe pain immediately and impact your ability to move your arm.
Diagnosing a Torn Rotator Cuff
Talk with your doctor about all your symptoms, including when they started and their level of intensity with certain activities and movements. Your doctor will also want to learn more about how the injury may have occurred and get a clear medical history. A physical examination of the shoulder is also an important part of the diagnostic process so your doctor can assess your muscle strength and range of motion. Performing basic shoulder and arm movements will help your doctor see what types of motions are more likely to cause you pain or appear to be hindered by the injury. Diagnostic imaging tools like X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds can also be beneficial for getting a better view of the affected area. The sooner you get a diagnosis of a torn rotator cuff, the better your chances are of preventing more serious long-term complications like losing range of motion or strength in your shoulder and arm.
Torn Rotator Cuff Treatment Without Surgery
There are many instances where a torn rotator cuff may be treated without surgery. Your chiropractor can develop a treatment plan that provides short-term relief for your pain and other symptoms while also addressing long-term concerns by getting at the root of the injury. Your chiropractor will also want to discuss treatment options like stretching and exercises to help strengthen your shoulder joint and supporting soft tissues. You should also note that it is normal to feel worse after visiting the chiropractor.
In order to manage the pain of a torn rotator cuff, your chiropractor will look at your shoulder and also your lifestyle and overall health. This type of holistic approach to your care ensures you experience both short-term and long-term relief through natural and effective means. While medications may temporarily mask your pain symptoms, it doesn’t address the cause of the pain and can leave you feeling more uncomfortable than ever. Your chiropractor will identify what is causing the pain and where the tear is located so they can move through the treatment process. It is also possible that you experience pain when trying to compensate for a shoulder injury, typically carrying this type of extra pressure and strain in your neck and upper back. Your chiropractor may use gentle, safe chiropractic adjustments to restore any misalignments that may be contributing to your pain.
After addressing any swelling in the area, your chiropractor can help you improve your mobility in your affected shoulder. Gentle therapeutic techniques like adjustments and massage can help restore healthy blood flow and mobility to the area. Other techniques can help soothe your aching muscles so they can begin to regain their range of motion, like ice and heat therapies. Applying cold compresses helps to reduce any swelling by temporarily reducing blood flow to the area. Cold therapy also provides your aching muscles with temporary relief from the pain. Alternating this with warm compresses also soothes the muscles and encourages fresh, oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the area.
Stretches and exercises can help with continuing to improve your mobility as well as increasing your strength in those muscles and tendons that make up your rotator cuff and support the shoulder joint. These types of stretches and exercises can be done with your chiropractor and sometimes even at home after you’ve learned and practiced the techniques. These types of movements can also improve your flexibility, stability, and help you prevent future injury.