A surgery to have a rotator cuff repaired is hard! Not so much hard to have the surgery, but hard to recover. Your shoulder is quite painful afterwards and the recovery (and therapy involved with the recovery) takes a long time. There will be weeks, if not months, where a person cannot use their surgical arm for work, household activities, or hobbies. This is why many people wonder if their rotator cuff tear can heal on its own.
The short answer to this question is "no," it will not heal on its own. BUT, that does not mean that you cannot get back to a painless shoulder, and one that you can do all your normal things with, without surgery. Click on button below to watch a video I created to talk about this:
If you had a gradual onset of shoulder pain that did not get better, and you have now been diagnosed as having a rotator cuff tear, there are a few things you should know:
1. A rotator cuff tear will not heal on its own. But, that does not mean you cannot have a normal functioning shoulder without surgery.
2. Many people have a torn rotator cuff and do not even know it! Research has shown that in people without shoulder pain, a tear in the rotator cuff is very common. In fact, when MRIs are done on people without shoulder pain, many of them show tears. And, the older we are, the more likely we are to have one.
3. Surgery may not be any better than conservative care: There have been multiple studies done where a group of patients undergo surgery and another group does rehab. When their outcomes are compared at 1-2 years out from surgery, there is no difference between groups.
4. Not having your tear repaired does not mean you will be worse down the road. In one study, the researchers took a group of people who were diagnosed as having a large tear and followed them 5 and 10 years out. They found that the majority of these individuals did well without surgery and they were no worse because they did not have surgery.
5. Many people can recover well with the appropriate treatment and exercise without surgery. When someone has a torn rotator cuff, it is usually a tear in one portion of the cuff. The cuff however, is actually made up of 4 different muscles along with the biceps tendon that helps control the shoulder. Even with a tear in one of these muscles, the others can be exercised so that they can take over for the torn one to allow you to have a normal shoulder. See below:
In the pictures above, you see the "rotator cuff" tendons. The picture on the left is the back of your shoulder, the middle picture is the top of the shoulder, and the picture on the right is the front of your shoulder. The thing you should notice is how all of these tendons kind of merge together on the top of the humerus (your shoulder). A rotator cuff tear would usually occur in one of these tendons. As they all merge together, we could view a rotator cuff tear much like we would a hole in a blanket. Although some portion of the blanket (rotator cuff) is torn, the blanket/cuff is still held together by other attachments. Watch this video below for a more detailed explanation.
I hope the information in this Blog can help you realize that surgery is not your only option if you have been diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear. I am not anti-surgery for a rotator cuff tear. However, you should know that there are other options and in most cases, you should pursue non-surgical options first.
If you are interested in reading more about shoulder pain and surgeries, you can click on the links below:
As always, thanks for reading,