Injuries to the rotator cuff – the group of tendons and muscles that allows shoulder movement and stability – are very common and can cause pain, weakness, and limited range of motion in the shoulder. To treat rotator cuff tears, doctors recommend non-surgical therapies like ice, rest, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drugs, or even surgery and rehabilitation, but no approach is foolproof. Non-surgical interventions work only about half the time, and surgery can lead to re-tearing and other complications.
In a small study of people with symptomatic rotator cuff tears, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that a 12-week exercise program improved shoulder strength and joint stability, minimized shoulder pain, and allowed people with rotator cuff tears to avoid surgery. Researchers plan to continue their work in this area with a larger group of participants, and hope to find out how long the positive effects of exercise last and how to better identify which patients will or will not benefit from exercise. According to co-author James Irrgang, PT, PhD, ATC, FAPTA, the continuing research “will help us to determine the effects of exercise for the treatment of rotator cuff tears on shoulder pain and function.” Dr. Irrgang added that “by following participants for 2 years after exercise, we will be able to determine the characteristics of individuals with a rotator cuff tear who will most benefit from exercise and who might be better off by having surgery to repair the rotator cuff.”