What You Need To Know About Rotator Cuff Physical Therapy

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Most people know that physical therapy is an important part of recovering from an injury, but many don't realize just how beneficial rotator cuff physical therapy can be. Here's what you need to know.

What is a rotator cuff?

The Mayo Clinic describes the rotator cuff as a "group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint" and attach the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone. These muscles and tendons help lift the arm.

The rotator cuff can become injured from overuse or sudden trauma. The most common symptom of a rotator cuff injury is pain in the shoulder, especially when lifting the arm or reaching overhead.

What are typical rotator cuff injuries?

There are many ways to injure your rotator cuff, including:

  • Overuse. This is the most common type of rotator cuff injury. It happens when you repeatedly use your arm in an overhead motion, such as when you play tennis or baseball.
  • Sudden trauma. This can happen if you fall on your arm or lift something heavy.
  • Degeneration. This is age-related wear and tear of the rotator cuff.
  • Bone spurs. Rotator cuff injuries can also be caused by bone spurs or other growths that rub against the rotator cuff tendons.

Additionally, there are some diseases that can lead to pain in your rotator cuff, such as arthritis and bursitis, an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the shoulder.

What is rotator cuff physical therapy?

Rotator cuff physical therapy is a type of rehabilitation that uses exercises and other treatments to relieve pain and restore function to the shoulder. The goal of rotator cuff physical therapy is to reduce pain, improve range of motion, and strengthen the muscles and tendons around the shoulder.

Your physical therapist will design a customized treatment plan based on the severity of your injury and your individual goals. Treatment may include:

  • Stretching. Stretching exercises can help improve range of motion, or ROM, and reduce pain.
  • Strengthening. Strengthening exercises can help support the muscles around the rotator cuff and prevent future injuries.
  • Manual therapy. Your physical therapist may use hands-on techniques, such as massage, to release tight muscles and reduce pain.
  • Ice and heat. Ice can help reduce inflammation, while heat can help loosen tight muscles.
  • Electrical stimulation. This therapy uses electrical currents to reduce pain and promote healing.
  • Ultrasound. Ultrasound therapy uses sound waves to reduce pain and inflammation.

Your rotator cuff physical therapy may include one of the above techniques or a combination of many of them in order to provide you with the best possible relief and rehabilitation.

What are the benefits of rotator cuff physical therapy?

Rotator cuff physical therapy is the key to relieving pain and restoring function to the shoulder. If you ignore the pain and don't go to therapy, you could make your injury worse. In fact, rotator cuff injuries that are left untreated can lead to permanent damage to the muscles and tendons around the shoulder.

If you think you have a rotator cuff injury, notify your doctor immediately to get started with rotator cuff physical therapy.