Healing Your Shoulder Naturally: What You Should Know About Treating Rotator Cuff Tears

December 13, 2023

If you’re struggling with a painful shoulder, you might be suffering from a rotator cuff tear. It’s a common injury that can cause significant discomfort and limit your daily activities. But there’s good news: physical therapy (PT) can be a highly effective way to heal and regain function. Here’s how PT helps and what current evidence says about its effectiveness.

What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, keeping the head of your upper arm bone firmly within the shallow socket of the shoulder. A tear can occur from a single injury or develop gradually due to overuse or age-related wear and tear.


If you have a rotator cuff tear, you might experience:

  • Pain, especially when lifting or lowering your arm
  • Weakness in the shoulder
  • Difficulty with activities that involve lifting your arm
  • A crackling sensation when moving your shoulder in certain positions

How Can Physical Therapy Help?

  1. Pain Management: PT can provide immediate relief from pain through various techniques like ultrasound, heat therapy, or electrical stimulation.
  2. Strengthening Exercises: One of the most critical aspects of PT is targeted exercises that strengthen not just the injured rotator cuff muscles but also the surrounding muscles. This helps to offload the damaged tendons and provides better support for the shoulder.
  3. Flexibility and Range of Motion: PT includes exercises and stretches that improve flexibility and range of motion. It’s essential to regain the normal, pain-free movement of the shoulder.
  4. Education and Prevention: Physical therapists educate patients on how to avoid future injuries and manage their current condition. This might include posture advice, ergonomic adjustments, or changes in your daily activities.
  5. Root Cause Analysis: One of the key things the PTs at New Life Physical Therapy do is determine HOW your rotator cuff got to this situation to begin with. While sometimes it can be a one time, traumatic event that tears the rotator cuff, many times it is the impact of daily repetitive stress and strain that results in the failure of a portion or all of the tendon. Fixing underlying causes will be instrumental in a successful outcome and decreasing risk of recurrence.

The Evidence

Recent studies highlight the effectiveness of PT for rotator cuff tears. For instance, a 2022 study published in the *Journal of Physical Therapy Science* found that patients with rotator cuff tears who underwent a structured PT program showed significant improvement in pain, strength, and function.

Another 2023 study in the *American Journal of Sports Medicine* reported that many patients with partial rotator cuff tears could avoid surgery through comprehensive physical therapy.

When to Consider Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is often recommended as the first line of treatment, especially for partial tears, with tears that occur over time, and in individuals looking to avoid surgery. You can access your New Life PT physical therapist directly without seeing a physician first. They will discuss options with you and make recommendations for further follow up if imaging or a surgical consult is warranted in your specific situation.


Physical therapy plays a vital role in healing and managing rotator cuff tears. With a combination of pain management, strengthening exercises, improved flexibility, and preventive education, New Life PT can help provide answers as to why you hurt or what is holding you back, and a path to succeed in doing life’s important things.