Will a Rotator Cuff Tear Heal on Its Own?

The rotator cuff describes the four muscles that cap the head of your upper arm bone and has the role of lifting and rotating your arm, while also stabilizing the ball of your shoulder in its joint. A tear of your rotator cuff can cause your shoulder to ache and disturb your sleep. You may find it difficult to reach behind your back or overhead, and the arm may feel weak.

The muscles and tendons can tear due to overuse, degeneration, or an injury. When it’s torn, continuing to use it and push through the pain can worsen the tear, causing more pain and weakness — it won’t just get better.

However, certain strategies can help reduce your pain and prevent worsening of your tear. You can even avoid surgery and restore enough function to manage basic day-to-day life.

Early diagnosis

Ignoring shoulder pain is not going to make it go away. When you notice chronic shoulder and/or arm pain, come see us at Douglas J. Abeles MD & Associates. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent the progression of symptoms and may prevent a loss of strength. It can also help you maintain a greater range of motion.

Nonsurgical healing

Nonsurgical treatment won’t necessarily repair a tear, but it can prevent it from getting worse. It can also alleviate pain and restore your strength and function enough for daily activity.

We may recommend anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, and specific exercises through physical therapy to treat a rotator cuff tear. These methods are particularly effective for people who use their shoulder for basic daily activities, such as working at a computer, grocery shopping, and driving.

Small to medium partial rotator cuff tears may heal with physical therapy in a minority of cases, although researchers have not determined who is most likely to heal without surgery and under what conditions. In fact, further studies are needed to determine to what extent the tear actually repairs itself.

If you play a sport or have a job that requires a lot of lifting overhead, you may not get a resolution of your pain and function without surgery.

Surgical healing

You may want to avoid surgery, but in some cases, it’s the only option if you desire a return to full function and less pain. The type and extent of your surgery depend on the degree and nature of your tear.

You might need a simple procedure that involves trimming excess tissue if you have a partial tear. A full tear within the tendons and muscles may be repaired side to side. A tear that originates at the insertion into the bone — one of the most common types — is repaired directly to the bone.

Rehabilitation

Even if you do end up having surgery, you need rehabilitation to restore full function of your shoulder joint. You may experience atrophy of the muscles that control the shoulder and a decrease in the area’s range of motion. The surgery may successfully repair the tear in the soft tissue, but it doesn’t restore muscle strength and function. Your rotator cuff won’t get stronger after surgery without physical therapy, which can last several months. 

At Douglas J. Abeles MD & Associates, we evaluate your particular condition and healing goals to determine whether you’d benefit best from surgical or nonsurgical treatments for your rotator cuff.  If you do end up needing surgery, trust that we use the most cutting-edge technology and minimally invasive techniques to maximize results and speed healing time.

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