Rotator cuff surgery

Can a Torn Rotator Cuff Heal Without Surgery?

If you have a torn rotator cuff, you might be wondering what your treatment options are. Nobody wants to undergo surgery unnecessarily. However, can a torn rotator cuff heal without it?

Here, you’ll discover more about rotator cuff tears and the treatment options available.

What is a rotator cuff tear?

There are four tendons and muscles that are responsible for stabilising the shoulder. A rotator cuff tear is diagnosed when one of them rips or tears. If the muscles become damaged or frayed, it is considered a partial tear. However, if the tendon comes away from the bone or it tears all the way through, it is considered a complete tear.

Most tears are caused over time through wear and tear. They can also be caused by a fall or injury and are more prevalent in athletes. If it is caused by wear and tear, it will be referred to as a degenerative tear.

Symptoms of a torn rotator cuff

The symptoms of a torn rotator cuff will vary depending upon whether you suffered a sudden or gradual tear. The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain when moving the arm upwards or downwards
  • Increased pain when the shoulder is resting, particularly at night
  • Weakness within the arm
  • A cracking sensation when the shoulder is moved in specific ways

If the tear occurs suddenly due to an injury, you will likely experience intense pain and a snapping sensation. If it occurs gradually, you will notice weakness and pain in the arm worsening over time.

Rarely, a rotator cuff tear doesn’t cause the patient any pain. However, weakness within the arm and other symptoms will be present.

Will you need rotator cuff surgery?

Not all patients require rotator cuff surgery to correct a tear. However, there is a possibility the tear could worsen over time. If the tear is small to medium in size, non-surgical treatments may be advised to see if they can rectify the issue.

It is thought that around 80% of patients experience relief from their symptoms with non-surgical treatments. These include rest, physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, and steroid injections. Sometimes certain activities may also need to be avoided.

While non-surgical methods can help some patients return to daily activities, they don’t always prevent the need for surgery. If your symptoms don’t improve or the tear worsens, you will need to undergo a surgical repair.

Another factor in your decision to undergo surgery is the level of activity you are hoping to return to. Older patients that have suffered a degenerative tear may be satisfied with the improvement in pain and mobility delivered by non-surgical treatments. Younger patients hoping to return to play at their previous level may opt for surgical repair followed by a rehabilitation programme. In a study published in the Arthroscopy, Sports Medicine, and Rehabilitation journal earlier this year, researchers from Dublin found that after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, athletes aged 30 years or younger show excellent functional outcomes with high rates of patient satisfaction and return to play after the procedure.

In rotator cuff surgery, the tendons are typically re-attached to the upper arm bone. There are several techniques that can be carried out to make the repair. The surgeon will determine the best method to use during your consultation.

If you have been diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear, book a consultation to discuss your treatment options today.