A rotator cuff tear is a detachment of one of the muscles that allows you to raise your arm up in front of you and over your head. This seemingly simple activity can become impossible for people who have torn their cuff. People with cuff tears complain of pain in their shoulder, pain at night, weakness and limited range of motion.

Shoulder PainWhile it would make sense that the best treatment is to reattach the muscle, which takes a simple outpatient procedure to do it, there is evidence that for some patients, learning to live with it is the best medicine.

Rotator Cuff Tears
What to look for with a rotator cuff tear
Rotator Cuff Tears: Do I need to fix it ?

Not every rotator cuff tear needs an operation, and there is data to support treating it with more traditional rehabilitation techniques. A recent study considered 93 patients with chronic rotator cuff tears. Each patient was treated non-operatively for three months and re-evaluated. Success was measured if the patient and the doctor both thought that they were better and asymptomatic. Failure were patients that went on to surgery.

75% of patients were successful without the need for surgery. These data, along with other studies, confirm that not everyone needs an operation to live well. Many patients, with the right mix of exercise, are able to overcome their complaints and live without pain and disability.

Typical nonsurgical treatments involve physical therapy to focus on the other muscles around the shoulder, core strength, and flexibility. Sometimes medications are helpful to calm down inflamed tissues.

Remember, everyone is different, and there is no treatment that fits everyone. Discuss your options with me and we will find what is best for you.

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Dr. Scott Hacker is a Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon in San Diego, CA, Team Surgeon to the US Olympic Team. He specializes in sports medicine and sports injuries, knee and shoulder surgery.

If you have questions about rotator cuff tears, or have a rotator cuff tear, please feel free to contact me at Ask Dr. Hacker or through my office.

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The Rotator Cuff Quality-of-Life Index Predicts the Outcome of Nonoperative Treatment of Patients with a Chronic Rotator Cuff Tear. http://dx.doi.org/10.2106/JBJS.M.01457