Have you ever been told that you have a rotator cuff tear and might need to have it repaired? Unfortunately, degenerative rotator cuff tears are one of those issues that increase in frequency as we age. In fact, over 50% of people have a rotator cuff tear by the time they reach 60 years old, and many of them have very little to no symptoms. The good news is that you don’t always need surgery to fix a non-traumatic tear. A 2014 study from Finland showed that physical therapy alone resulted in equal results when compared to surgical interventions (both open and arthroscopic). They specifically investigated patients aged 55 and older who had non-traumatic supraspinatus tears (the most commonly torn rotator cuff tendon). Physical therapy treatment focused on guidance regarding home exercise, consisting ofglenohumeral range of motion and scapular exercises for 12 weeks. This was then followed by strength and resistance training for up to 6 months. They were also referred for 10 outpatient PT visits. Each patient was assessed at 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year. The surgical and non-surgical patients were very similar in rates of improvement. In addition, the patients’ level of satisfaction was the same for both surgical and non-surgical approaches. The authors of this study concluded that “conservative treatment should be considered as the primary treatment for this condition.” So, next time your MD or friend suggests that you get a rotator cuff repair, remember that you will need to see a physical therapist after the surgery anyway for a painful and lengthy recovery. Tell them that you can get the same results without undergoing a surgery, which has much more risk of side effects and complications. Then meet them on the tennis court and show them how your shoulder compares to theirs.
Kukkonen J, Joukainen A, Lehtinen J, et al. Treatment of non-traumatic rotator cuff tears: A randomised controlled trial with one-year clinical results. Bone Joint J. 2014 Jan;96-B(1):75-81
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