Is it a Rotator Cuff Tear, or Rotator Cuff Wear?

There is a wide misconception that if you have a rotator cuff tear you will need surgery to get relief from your symptoms. The truth is, that on ultrasound (which is how most rotator cuff tears are diagnosed) is that it is impossible to tell the difference between a tear, and what’s called a tendinopathy – which is just degenerative changes in the tendon… age-related wear and tear.  

The problem with this is that when people hear they have a tear, they worry it will need an operation, and it makes them scared to use their arm for fear of making things worse. However, the reality is that if correct diagnosis can be made with a thorough physical exam, it can restore hope that a successful rehabilitation without the need for surgery can be achieved.

The best course of treatment involves a combination of soft tissue therapy to loosen up the tight and overactive parts of the shoulder, combined with specific exercise to improve the position of the shoulder blade and strength of the rotator cuff.  It is really important to have this combination of hands on treatment and exercise, as exercise alone takes much longer to show improvement in symptoms. 

When this process is done right, the prospect of needing surgery will be a distant memory. In the short term, the pain will be significantly less, especially at night and shoulder movement will be restored, and over 6-12 months shoulder function and strength should be close to normal.

Could you imagine having shoulder surgery, complete with a lengthy rehab period, which you may not have even needed! 

Correct diagnosis is the absolute key to getting a good outcome for shoulder pain involving the Rotator Cuff, as it allows a plan to be tailored for the specific problem, and really does increase the chances of getting back to normal.  

By Nikki Rathbone - APA Titled Sports Physiotherapist

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