Rotator Cuff Tear

Posted On: July 7, 2020

You’re a high end North Shore women’s league tennis player. In a tournament final you find your opponent is a younger, aggressive player. The wind is blowing, making it difficult to serve and volley. You grind out a victory using a combination of finesse shots and strong baseline play. During the victory your right arm starts to ache.

The next day you find you can’t raise your right arm without excruciating pain. Advil takes away the pain’s edge, but does nothing to improve you range of motion.

You reach out to your friendly neighborhood chiropractor or physical therapist. He examines you and somehow knows exactly where to touch to make it hurt. He asks, “Does it hurt here?” You respond, “yes!” and recoil in the opposite direction. He then has you hold your arm in a certain position and instructs you to hold the position while he exerts a downward pressure. Again, you feel the pain.

He steps back and says, “I think you have torn your rotator cuff.” Your heart sinks as you think of all of those Cub pitchers whose careers were ruined by torn rotator cuffs.

You ask, “does that mean I need surgery?” He says, “no, not always. It depends on the MRI and the degree of your tear. “How about a cortisone shot?” you ask. “Bad idea,” he replies, “because it eats away tissue along with controling inflammation.” He then says, “ice, use lots and lots of ice. Ten minutes on and ten minutes off for an hour, twice a day if possible.” He then says, “I want you to do therapy three times per week.” You ask, “what about tennis?” He looks you dead in the eye and says, “no tennis.” “For how long?” you scream. He replies, “eight to twelve weeks, depending on severity and compliance.”

You have the MRI and it identifies a small tear. You start physical therapy and are doing a combination of tubing exercises and maneuvers balancing on your hands. The chiropractor does this painful deep tissue massage that hurts when he does it, but it feels better when he’s done. As the weeks go by you start working on more complex movements that mimic tennis strokes.

At eight weeks your arm no longer hurts to elevate and you are instructed to hit ground strokes with a pro. Therapy is down to twice per week. Your lessons go well. You are instructed to start drilling. You find you are a little out of shape, but you soon find your rhythm.

At ten weeks the chiropractor instructs you to work on serves with the pro. You work hard and correct the little defects identified. Soon your serve is back, stronger than ever. You triumphantly return to league play with some adulation and some scorn. You feel great.

This case scenario or iterations of it have played out for many of our patients over the years at North Shore Spinal and Sports Rehabilitation. I hope you found my blog to be both engaging and informative. If you have–or think you may have–a rotator cuff problem, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We are here to help.


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