When a Rotator Cuff Takes a Turn

Today, we're going to talk about what happens when a person suffers from a minor rotator cuff injury.

Mrs. Z had a rough summer. The 52-year-old woman had moved to Phoenix and immediately been hospitalized with pneumonia, then hospitalized again with a secondary infection.

Nonetheless, she was feeling fairly chipper when she got in her car to visit her cousin. She reached around with her right hand behind her left hip to grab the seat belt and felt a sharp pain in the front of her shoulder. It hurt so badly that she didn't use her arm for the rest of the day. She made a makeshift sling, hoping rest and ibuprofen would cure it.

But it got worse.  Within just a few days, Mrs. Z. couldn't move her arm at all. She went to her family physician, who quickly diagnosed a torn rotator cuff. While x-rays, ultrasound and MRI’s are sometimes used to help make the diagnosis, none of this was necessary in Mrs. Z.’s case. Her next stop was physical therapy.


During each of her six physical therapy sessions, Mrs. Z. performed exercises with the help of her therapist. Some were active, and others were passive range of motion. Her therapist taught Mrs. Z. how to perform passive range of motion exercises in her home.

“At first, I thought I’d never get my range of motion back. My shoulder was simply frozen,” Mrs. Z. said. “But, I could see the improvement during physical therapy, and the home exercises helped a lot.”

While specific jobs and sports involving repetitive and overhead motions can cause rotator cuff injuries, age is also a culprit, and family history can also play a factor. “Before he sent me to the physical therapist, my family doctor warned me that because torn rotator cuffs were part of my family history, I needed to be very careful of my other shoulder.  Having one torn rotator cuff was bad enough. I can’t imagine having two at once!”

Injuring another arm or leg by favoring it during the convalescence of the other is a common occurrence. Your health team professionals--doctors, therapists, and aides--can help you avoid that possibility. What else is important?

“Keeping up with exercises,” Mrs. Z said empathetically.  “That and faith. Even if you have to have the surgery, you have to have faith that your body will eventually heal, and if you’re diligent, you’ll get back both your strength and range of motion.”

If you are looking for occupational or physical therapy, vestibular rehab, wheelchair training, learning to walk, unweighting, or other services in the Phoenix area, please call Touchstone Rehabilitation at 602-277-1073

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