Repetitive stress and injuries can affect the rotator cuff in the shoulder. This can lead to severe pain and long-term range-of-motion problems. Before considering surgery, a patient can explore chiropractic care for this problem.
Rotator Cuff and Injuries
The muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder are the rotator cuff. If the tendons tear, it causes pain and restricted arm movements. Typically, rotator cuffs are injured through repetitive motions—most likely “overhead motions or forceful pulling motions”. The athletes commonly affected are baseball or softball pitchers, quarterbacks in football, weight lifters, cheerleaders, shot put throwers, swimmers, kayakers, martial artists, tennis players, and bowlers. Those in the music field can be affected (i.e., conductors, drummers).1 Even sedentary computer work can cause problems due to keeping the arm in the same position. Household chores, such as carpentry or painting, where the arm is kept over the head, can lead to rotator cuff tears. Finally, poor posture and aging tendons can lead to rotator cuff tendinitis. The amount of rehabilitation necessary depends on whether or not there is tendinitis, partial tears, or complete tears.2
Doctors may recommend ibuprofen, naproxen, or steroid injections to ease the pain and swelling.3 Conservative treatments for rotator cuff injuries are similar to those used in other types of strains: RICE. The RICE stands for Rest, Icing, Compression, and Elevation. RICE aims to reduce swelling and inflammation and to limit additional injury. Doctors may even recommend various exercises to strengthen and rehabilitate the shoulder. Sleeping positions will also need adjustment. There could, however, be bone injuries underlying the rotator cuff strain. Some patients are still in pain regardless of conservative care. Doctors may then recommend surgery, especially if the rotator cuff is completely torn. Surgery will then reattach the bone and tendon.4 Arthroscopic surgery can be used to “remove inflamed tissue and part of the bone”.5
Chiropractic Approach for Rotator Cuff Injuries
Chiropractors will tend towards treatments that help patients with mobility and stability. There can be scar tissue from the injury, leading to further irritation of the nerves and continued joint pain. Chiropractic adjustments can assist with the “joint mechanics”, and some chiropractors may employ “Active Release muscle therapy” to restore flexibility and strength. The latter refers to a doctor using “precisely applied tension in combination with specific patient movements”. Surgery may increase scar tissue, and it rarely addresses the cause of the nerve irritation. The physical therapy approach of hot and cold packs (which can be done at home) and ultrasound may offer little long-term results.6 Typical chiropractic treatments involve spinal manipulation, massage, traction, stretching, and strengthening exercises.7 Chiropractic aims to resolve the underlying problems so that patients don’t have to take medications, have surgeries, or perform certain exercises for the rest of their lives.