Rotator Cuff Injury and Recovery

Rotator Cuff Injury and Recovery

Are you experiencing chronic shoulder pain? Has simple, overhead movement becomes difficult and uncomfortable? Maybe you’re on a basketball or football team and can’t seem to throw with quite the same force without shooting pain going down your arm. You may be experiencing symptoms of a torn rotator cuff.

Whether your goal is to return to playing sports or you’re just hoping to reach the top shelf of your pantry pain-free, chronic shoulder injuries can put a crimp on day-to-day life. One big hurdle for many who experience these injuries is getting an accurate medical diagnosis due to the complexity of the shoulder joint. 

While shoulder injuries can be potentially serious, a torn rotator cuff doesn’t automatically mean that you need surgery. However, it doesn’t just heal on its own—  you will need an appropriate rehab program. If you suspect or know that you have a torn rotator cuff, this article is for you. 

What Is Your Rotator Cuff?

We put our shoulders through a lot of work in the name of daily activities and sports, but we don’t tend to give them much credit. The rotator cuff is essentially the group of muscles and tendons around your shoulder joint that help keep everything in place and functioning smoothly. The rotator cuff also helps hold your upper arm bone into your shoulder socket. So, you want to keep this one healthy! 

How Can You Tear Your Rotator Cuff?

A rotator cuff tear is often the more extreme version of rotator cuff tendonitis or inflammation. A tear in the rotator cuff can occur over time and with heavy repetitive use, sometimes from work-related activities. For example, many painters and carpenters have trouble with their rotator cuffs because of the physical nature of their workday in and day out. However, a rotator cuff tear can also occur during an accident, such as a sudden fall or while playing an impact sport. We also become more susceptible to this injury as we age; these tears are most common in people over the age of 40.

What does a torn rotator cuff feel like?

If you’re feeling the pain that shoots down the side of your arm from your shoulder or pain and weakness in your shoulder with overhead activities, you may have a rotator cuff tear. You may also feel a deep ache within the shoulder, especially when trying to sleep on the affected side. 

Can A Rotator Cuff Injury Heal Without Surgery?  

We’ll preface this section by again stressing that a proper medical diagnosis is key in determining your most effective rehab program. Rehab will vary, depending on the severity of the tear. If you’ve been diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear, taking immediate action with your rehab will also give you the best possible outcome. This is largely because the longer that this tendon healing is delayed, the more the rotator cuff begins to retract, effectively inhibiting the success of treatments. In short: stay on top of this injury!

The really good news is that small and medium tears generally respond well to conservative rehab and don’t necessarily need surgery when approached the right way. As you work with a medical professional to craft your own plan for healing, the following points all carry important weight in the rehab process.

At-Home Care And Next Steps For A Torn Rotator Cuff

Get a Medical Exam

The shoulder is a complex joint, and shoulder pain can have many different causes. The key to recovery, however, is understanding exactly what is causing the pain: i.e. a sound medical diagnosis. Even knowing it’s a rotator cuff injury isn’t enough, because the severity of the tear determines what options there are. Keep in mind, that delaying a diagnosis also means delaying treatment, which can impede your ability to recover long-term. That’s why seeking out a medical professional is the first step you should take. 

Rehab Exercise Plan

Proper care for a torn rotator cuff includes a carefully structured rehabilitation plan with appropriate exercises to take you through the various healing stages. The severity of the tear largely dictates the kind of rehab exercises that you’ll be performing, though these exercises normally focus on strengthening the muscles surrounding the rotator cuff and regaining a comfortable range of motion. It’s highly advised to follow a personalized plan from a doctor, as they will be able to give you guidelines to safely test and advance your shoulder back to full health.

Keep in mind that you’ll still want to pace yourself as you go through these new exercises; though it’s important to stay on top of rehab, “more” isn’t always “better.” 

Apply Ice and Heat

This one sounds simple, but it works! Many experience relief from alternating the application of both ice and heat to the area. Try applying ice or a cold pack for about 15 minutes every couple of hours. This should help reduce some inflammation and pain. Once you start to get your pain level under control, hot packs can help relax the muscles around the area and provide additional relief.


Ok, we know that this one doesn’t sound like much, but sometimes rest is the best thing that you can give an injury. Outside of your prescribed rehabilitation exercises, it’s best to not put your shoulder through too much physical stress while it’s in its healing stages. Overhead activities and impact sports are a big “no” during this period! Play it on the safe side and limit your activity to what is outlined specifically in your rehab plan.

What Is The Role of Chiropractic in Rotator Cuff Tear Recovery? 

Through the use of adjustments of the spine, neck, and extremities, chiropractic can help to realign the body and provide real relief that can be so desperately needed in the throes of this injury. 

These gentle adjustments help to decrease inflammation, relieve pressure, reduce nerve irritability, and ultimately allow your entire body to relax and healing to take place. Additionally, chiropractic adjustments can also help with joint mobility, which is a huge factor in caring for your shoulder through rotator cuff tear rehab. By working consistent chiropractic care into your routine, you enable better healing and increase your overall quality of life. That’s a huge win-win. Your practitioner can also help you work in appropriate at-home exercises to accelerate your progress outside of office hours.

Whether you suspect that you may have a rotator cuff tear, have already received a diagnosis, or looking to get help proactively, chiropractic care can help with overall shoulder health. Schedule your appointment online or call (714) 777-3200.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.