The diagnosis of a torn rotator cuff can light a match of fear in us. Before you agree to go under the knife consider this: if you've ever had a pulled muscle then you've had a torn muscle. The terms are synonymous.
There are three degrees of muscle tears. A first-degree muscle tear involves only a few muscle fibers with mild inflammation and rapid recovery. A second-degree muscle tear involves more fibers and possibly the tendon, with moderate inflammation. A third-degree muscle tear (also referred to as a full depth tear) involves over half of the muscle's fibers and its tendons, with severe inflammation and pain.
Unless you have a third-degree muscle tear, chances are good that you can have a full recovery without surgery. Non-invasive techniques such as massage, acupuncture, strength training and stretches along with changes in sleep position and postural habits can be powerfully effective.
Of the four rotator cuff muscles, the most commonly torn are the infraspinatus/teres minor and the supraspinatus. We'll focus on the infraspinatus/teres minor.
These muscles often get torn from our tendency to roll our shoulders forward in a slumped position. Are yours rolled forward now? Infraspinatus/teres minor are external rotators of the shoulder joint (they roll your shoulders back) and live on the back of our shoulder blades. When we slump out shoulders forward they are put into a stretched state. The longer a muscle is held in a stretched state the chances of tearing increases. Our wonderful external rotators can be quite forgiving up to a point but after of lifetime of the less than optimal posture they'll throw in the towel and start yelping with pain.
Let's differentiate this stretched state from stretching. Healthy stretching is when we intentionally take a muscle into an elongated state for a period of time - usually between 20-60 seconds. Then the muscle is returned to its resting length. However if the resting length of a muscle is a stretched state that muscle is under a tremendous tensile load which contributes to frequent micro-tearing and the development of trigger points, which eventually lead to - you guessed it- a macro tear.
First and second-degree tears in infraspinatus/teres minor respond well to massage (to find a massage therapist specifically trained in treating rotator cuff injuries please click on the Rotator Cuff Relief link below) and other non-invasive therapies. In terms of exercise they need strength training NOT STRETCHING.
Below is a simple and effective exercise to strengthen these muscles. I suggest starting with a minimum of resistance, either light weights (2-3 lbs) or a light resistance band (shown below). Go slowly, respect your body's pain tolerance and remember that often with injuries, less is more.
To learn more about the rotator cuff and ways to help yourself go to:Rotator Cuff Relief .
Other articles about the shoulder and the rotator cuf are at: Shoulder Exercises for Impingement Syndrome and Exercises for Rotator cuff Injuries
•Using either a resistance band or 2 to 3 pound weights, bend the elbows and “glue” them in to the waist.
•Separate the forearms as if you were opening both sides of a coat.
•Slowly return to starting position. The return trip provides what’s called eccentric strengthening or working the negative. Most injuries to these muscles occur from being over-stretched, so gradual strengthening on the return is a good preventative.
•Start with three sets of five repetitions and gradually increase to ten repetitions.