Rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common causes of shoulder issues in athletes. In fact, over half of the shoulder-related conditions we treat at True Sports Physical Therapy in Baltimore are rotator cuff injuries. A rotator cuff tear can be a painful and somewhat scary injury for athletes (primarily due to the sudden drop in range of motion – something we’ll get to soon) but isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with proper rest, nutrition, and top of the line physical therapy!
The rotator cuff is actually a group of four muscles: the subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and the teres minor. These muscles work together to form a rigid, protective cuff around the shoulder when they are activated. Motions involving a raising of the shoulder or an overhead reach of any sort will activate your rotator cuff muscles.
Recovery from rotator cuff surgery can take anywhere from 6 months to a year depending on variables such as patient age, severity of the tear, reparability of the tear, etc. But what should you expect in the meantime?
One of the most difficult aspects of post-surgery life for many patients to adjust to is the restrictions placed upon daily living by a lack of ROM (Range of Motion) in the shoulder which was operated on. During the first 4-6 weeks after surgery, it’s highly advised that the arm operated on be used sparingly. Focus should be placed on reducing inflammation and gently introducing changes in ROM to reduce scar tissue buildup which could further hinder ROM in the future.
From weeks 6-12 the focus shifts more towards increasing range of motion so as to normalize the motions needed to perform the activities of daily life. Lifting anything heavier than a book or glass of water, or stabilizing the body on the injured arm is still highly inadvisable at this stage of recovery. ROM exercises using gravity as resistance will be prescribed by your physical therapist around this time. These exercises will increase in range and intensity as you progress through your recovery.
By around week 10-12 of your recovery you should be close to regaining full ROM in the shoulder – this is when strengthening exercises begin! You’ll be put through a series of exercises aimed at increasing shoulder strength, power, and endurance. This will all be part of a progressive program aimed at helping you get back in the gym. The weighted work which comes at the tail end of this phase will be focused on other major upper body muscle groups. At True Sports Physical Therapy we’ll even develop an exercise regime designed to address patterns of motion specific to your sport(s) of choice.
During weeks 16-24 it’s time to transition back into your regular physical activities. Stretching and ROM-focused exercises should still be performed regularly as your progressive strength/endurance training helps you transition back into a full load of gym work. Working with a skilled physical therapist (and following their instructions!) is a major key to shoulder rehab success. Don’t waste a minute – if you’re electing to have rotator cuff surgery, it’s already time to book your post-surgery physical therapy with True Sports!