Rotator Cuff Tears, Impingement Syndrome and a Physical Therapists Personal Story on Shoulder Pain.

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As someone who has gone through physical therapy following the onset of shoulder pain, I can confirm that it’s a challenge.  It is one thing when discomfort first affects your ability to lift weights at the gym, but when it limits you from putting shampoo in your hair or getting a dish out of the cabinet, it is downright frustrating.

Luckily, I was able to make excellent progress over time. For me, the most important moment in that process was meeting with a local physical therapist who gave me practical advice, helped me modify certain activities, and designed an exercise program to build resilience in my shoulder.

It has now been quite a few years since that injury occurred, and my shoulder feels the best it ever has.  My own experience is just one example of what can be achieved through hard work and the guidance of a physical therapist.

Two diagnoses that we frequently help patients rehabilitate at Cray Physical Therapy include rotator cuff tears and impingement syndrome. It is quite common for our patients to experience fear after receiving these diagnoses, but there is good news – physical therapy can help!

Some optimistic facts regarding rotator cuff tears:

In a recent study of  over 4,000 participants; ten percent of the population younger than twenty years old and sixty two percent of people older than eighty years old demonstrated rotator cuff changes, showing an increase with age. This trend is similar regardless if pain is present, meaning that these changes do not equate to the onset of pain. (Teunis et al.)  Rotator cuff tears do not appear (upon imaging) to progress significantly over two to five years, even in the presence of pain. (Kwong et al.)  Full-thickness rotator cuff tears tend to improve over time, up to twelve months following initiation of treatment.  This trend is similar for both surgical treatment and non-operative treatment. (Khatri et al.)  Sixty-six to seventy-five percent of patients with chronic full-thickness rotator cuff tears who participated in twelve weeks of physical therapy were shown to have successful outcomes (avoid surgery) for up to five years following treatment. (Boorman et al.)
Exercise has been shown to improve pain, range of motion, strength, and function to a satisfactory level in eighty-five percent of people with full-thickness rotator cuff tears. (Jeanfavre et al.)

The most important information to take away from the above research findings is that physical therapy is both effective for those that have surgery and those that pursue non-operative treatment.

The diagnosis that I was provided during my course of rehabilitation was impingement syndrome, within the category of subacromial pain syndrome (SAPS). In this case, the research again shows exercise to be the most effective way to navigate this pain.  In fact, surgery is rarely performed for those with the diagnosis of subacromial pain syndrome because of how effective physical therapy is.

If you or a loved one have the onset of shoulder pain and are told you have a rotator cuff tear or impingement, Cray Physical Therapy is here for you. Through performing a thorough exam and creating an individualized rehabilitation plan, we will assist you in getting back to your normal activities and achieving your personal goals.

By Miles Nicholas, PT, DPT, CSCS


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