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What's the Treatment for a Rotator Cuff Tear?

As bad as these injuries can be, the good news is that many rotator cuff tears heal on their own. You just need to give them a little time. You also should:

  • Rest the joint as much as possible. Avoid any movement or activity that hurts. You may need a sling.
  • Ice your shoulder two to three times a day to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Perform range-of-motion exercises, if your doctor recommends them.
  • Consider physical therapy to strengthen the joint.
  • Use anti-inflammatory painkillers, or NSAIDS, like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin. However, these drugs can have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.

More serious rotator cuff tears require surgery. One procedure is shoulder arthroscopy, usually an outpatient procedure. During an arthroscopy, the patient is put to sleep with general anesthesia. A small camera is inserted into the shoulder to see and repair the rotator cuff tear. If the tear is very large or involves more than one tendon, a small incision may be needed. Following arthroscopy, the arm will likely be in a sling for two to three weeks and physical therapy will be prescribed.

When Will I Feel Better After a Rotator Cuff Tear?

What a lot of athletes really want to know is when they can get back in the game after a rotator cuff tear. But it's hard to say. Recovery time depends on how serious the tear is. It may take weeks or months. People heal at different rates. Obviously, if you need surgery, recovery will take longer.

But whatever you do, don't rush things. Do not resume the activity that caused your injury until:

  • You feel no pain in your shoulder
  • Your shoulder feels as strong as the uninjured one
  • You have almost normal range of motion
  • You can sleep on the shoulder
  • You can function as well as before the injury

If you start using your shoulder before it's healed, you could cause permanent damage.

Athletes should ease back into their sport. For instance, if you got a rotator cuff tear from throwing, don't start off by pitching fastballs. Do more gentle tossing until you get your strength back.

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