Recovering From A Tear In Your Rotator Cuff

Posted on: 12 December 2015

Your rotator cuff is a complex arrangement of tendons that protect your shoulder while allowing a full range of motion. A tear in one of these tendons often requires surgery to restore your shoulder to its normal functionality. Here is what you need to know about the treatment of this injury and what to expect during your recovery from it.

A Simple Injury That Requires a Long Recovery Period

The tendons in the rotator cuff attach various muscles to the bones that make up your shoulder. Tendons have less of a blood supply than the muscles, which causes them to take longer to heal. If one of the tendons is torn or pulls away from a bone and is not surgically repaired, it will heal unnaturally, causing your shoulder to move unpredictably. Your shoulder may be easier to dislocate.

Surgery is done to reattach the tendon to the bone or repair the tear. This begins a long recovery process as the tendon heals and your shoulder muscles are made stronger to support and protect your shoulder. It will take weeks to recover normal motion in your shoulder and longer if you plan to be active in sports that use your shoulder.

Recovering After Surgery

Your shoulder surgeon will send you home with a sling that holds your arm close to your body. The sling keeps your shoulder in a neutral position while it heals. You'll wear the sling constantly until your doctor has you begin physical therapy.

After a few weeks of tissue healing, your doctor will start you on a program to stretch your unused shoulder muscles and strengthen them. You'll continue to wear the sling during this period but will be allowed to take it off to do light activities.

The first part of your physical therapy will be passive motions, in which the therapist moves your arm through its normal range of motion. This is to stretch out the muscles that haven't been used for several weeks while the tissues heal. This phase is necessary to restore normal movement to your stiff shoulder.

Once your doctor is satisfied that your shoulder has achieved its normal range of motion, you'll begin active physical therapy to strengthen your shoulder muscles. You'll be able to spend longer times out of the sling during this phase. But you can also re-injure your shoulder now by pushing yourself beyond the limits set by the physical therapist. This is when patience is important as you stick with the incremental progress you are making.

Your recovery will take several months and the duration depends on the amount of injury and how active you plan to be with your shoulder. Slow and steady progress is necessary while the tendons are healing. Any attempt to rush the process can result in additional injury to your shoulder, setting back your recovery. Contact a company like Interior Alaska Orthopedic & Sports Medicine for more information about treatment or the recovery process.