Shoulder > Rotator Cuff Tear > Treatments

   Rest, Ice, Anti-inflammatory Medication, Physical Therapy

Home Recovery

To treat a rotator cuff tear, physicians generally recommend that you give the muscles and tendons in your shoulder a chance to rest. You should avoid putting strain on your arms, raising them over your head, or lifting heavy objects. Physicians often prescribe a removable sling to immobilize the arm for about three days. While wearing the sling, you should ice your shoulder for about 20 minutes at a time, three or four times a day. You can rest a bag of ice on your shoulder whether sitting or lying down; you may need to tape the ice pack if you plan on moving around while icing your shoulder. Ice decreases the size of blood vessels in your shoulder, which helps decrease inflammation and pain. Your physician also may prescribe over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like aspirin or ibuprofen. Occasionally, some patients are given injections of long-lasting anesthetics to ease pain. A corticosteroid injection can be effective in reducing pain, but care must be taken not to inject the tendon directly, as this can result in weakness and possible rupture of the tendon. Injections generally are given at least three months apart, and exercises involving resistance should be avoided for a week after injection.


With the aid of a physical therapist, passive motion exercises usually can start as soon as possible after rotator cuff injuries. Rehabilitation can sometimes begin the day after a minor rotator cuff tear. However, your physician may recommend that you rest for between one to two weeks, depending on the severity of your injury and your involvement in physical activities. In addition to wearing a sling, your physical therapist may provide you with heat therapy, like heat pads and whirlpool treatments. Physical therapy for rotator cuff tears usually progresses through four phases. The time you spend in each phase depends on the severity of your injury and your body’s ability to heal.

   The first phase focuses on decreasing inflammation in the rotator cuff. Your therapist usually helps you move your arm and stretch your shoulder.

   When you feel comfortable moving your arm with your own strength, the second phase of rehabilitation works on restoring a full range of motion and strengthening the hands, wrist, and elbow.

   When muscles and tendons in the rotator cuff have healed, the third phase of rehab strengthens the rotator cuff muscles. You usually learn shoulder-strengthening exercises without weights and progressively add resistance as pain diminishes.

   When the muscles in the injured rotator cuff are about as strong as the uninjured muscles, phase four of rehabilitation becomes more activity oriented. You usually perform sport specific exercises and coordination drills under the supervision of a therapist or coach.

Prevention [top]

The best way to prevent recurring rotator cuff tears is to make the strengthening exercises you learned in rehabilitation part of your everyday routine. You should remember to stretch your shoulder and warm up before exercising. Sports that involve repeated overhead motion, like baseball and tennis, inevitably strain your shoulder. To prevent injury, you need to keep all the rotator cuff muscles toned and flexible with an exercise program. You also may need to alter your work environment to avoid repeated overhead activities. Physicians generally recommend that you ice your shoulder after activities. Competitive athletes may need to use anti-inflammatory medication, like aspirin and ibuprofen, after sports activities that cause swelling in their shoulders. Physicians generally recommend that if you feel pain in your shoulder after a rotator cuff tear, you should cut back your activity level and return to your physician for a check-up.

Rest, Ice, Anti-inflammatory Medication, Physical Therapy
   Home Recovery
Arthroscopic Debridement
Surgical Tendon Repair

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