A torn rotator cuff occurs when the small muscles that hold the shoulder joint together tear. Traditional medical treatment starts with putting the arm in a sling and taking painkiller or muscle relaxer drugs. This “conservative” treatment often fails, leading to trials of corticosteroid injections and finally, surgery. It can take a year or more to fully recover from rotator cuff surgery and resume normal activities. In my practice, I have worked with people years after rotator cuff surgery who do not have full and complete range of motion in the affected should joint.
It is difficult to let the shoulder joint rest completely. In addition to the many activities we use our arms for, the weight of the arm is constantly pulling on the shoulder joint when standing or sitting, and we put weight on our shoulders when sleeping on our sides. It’s a very busy joint!
I was very interested to learn about a very effective exercise program put together by doctors at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Called the “MOON” program (Multicenter Orthopedic Outcome Network), it combines range of motion, flexibility, and strengthening exercise. When performed properly and regularly, this program is 85% effective at avoiding surgery, based on a trial of 452 patients with rotator cuff tears. Although recommended for use with supervision by a physical therapist, you can download the entire program (booklet and video) at moonshoulder.com.
Most of my clients are very hesitant to seek surgical solutions for injuries or problems. If you have been diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury, I recommend looking in to this exercise program, and at the same time, getting some good bodywork or yoga therapy to examine the holding patterns in your body-mind that have lead to this particular area of the body being vulnerable. The two together make a very strong non-surgical alternative that is worth investigating.