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Rotator cuff injury – treatment options

The rotator cuff comprises four muscles and tendons that help to stabilise the shoulder and assist in movement. The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint which can be easily injured by overuse, wear and tear or excessive force. Aging may be responsible for wear and tear, while sports or athletics may be the cause of the other two. When these muscles become injured, certain everyday functions such as raising your arm above your head, or tucking your shirt into your pants become difficult or impossible. One means of treating this problem is with physiotherapy.

Non-surgical approach

Physiotherapy intervention is usually successful in the majority of cases. Your therapist will begin with an evaluation of your physical condition, including muscle strength, range-of-motion and functional capabilities. He/she will take into consideration your age, lifestyle and goals when drawing up a therapy program. Sessions will focus on isometric exercises (in which there is muscle contraction but no movement) and stretching. This can be done initially with the help of the therapist until you can do them independently. Resistance bands and other simple equipment are helpful in this regard.

Pendulum (swinging) exercises may be performed with the person bending at the waist so they do not have to try to lift the arms against gravity. These exercises help to increase range-of-motion and flexibility in the joint. Later on, you may begin weight lifting with light weights to increase strength, endurance and muscle. You may also be required to perform activities of daily living - functional tasks such as bathing, dressing and the like in order to train the shoulder to do those things it used to do before. An occupational therapist usually handles this area of your rehabilitation.

Surgical approach

The few cases that do not respond to physiotherapy may require surgical intervention. Arthroscopic surgery gets rid of bone spurs and inflamed tissue surrounding the shoulder. This procedure has a high success rate, but can be expensive.

The approach you choose should be recommended by your physiotherapist and doctor. However, even if you do have surgery, you will still need physiotherapy to aid in your recovery. The body will eventually heal itself, but the process can be sped up and made a lot simpler with the help of physiotherapy.


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