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Athletic Training

Torn rotator cuff

02/20/2007

Question:

My wife is 65 years old and was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff. What would be the best therapy for her based on age. No other health problems. She is considering aqua therapy.

Answer:

Without specific knowledge of your wife's case and without knowing the severity of her injury, I'm afraid that I can't provide a definitive answer as to how she should treat this.  However, I can provide some general information regarding tears of the rotator cuff. 

Rotator cuff tears can be nasty injuries because the rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that not only performs rotation of the upper arm, it also is largely responsible for holding the upper arm bone (humerus) into the shoulder socket (glenoid).  When torn, you lose strength and movement, but your shoulder can also become unstable.  This can cause more problems.

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not surgery is the best option including:

In non-athletes, especially in those who've had shoulder problems for a long time, the tear is often due to the rotator cuff and their tendons getting worn down over time where they pass through a narrow tunnel in the shoulder.  This makes them thin, sometimes paper thin.  When they finally tear, there is not much good tissue left to try to stitch together.  For these, the surgeon often has to anchor the remaining tissue down to the bone of the upper arm using one of several different techniques.

If your wife still has good range of motion with little to no pain, she may be able to strengthen the surrounding cuff muscles and they can help to essentially "take over" for the torn part.  I would highly recommend your wife follows up with her physician before making any decisions regarding exercise and rehabilitation.  She would most likely be best served following a formalized rehabilitation plan designed by a medical professional.  

Good Luck!

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Response by:

Katrina B Stibel, MA, ATC Katrina B Stibel, MA, ATC
Former:
Assistant Athletic Trainer, Instructor
Department of Athletics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University