Dealing with shoulder pain (especially if you’ve had it for a while) can be frustrating and debilitating, and even more so when it affects your ability to do day to day activities and quality of life. One common cause of shoulder pain is a condition known as rotator cuff-related shoulder pain (RCRSP). We want to share with you what RCRSP is, the most common causes, and how physiotherapy can help you feel better and return to doing the things that make you happy.
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, providing stability and facilitating movement. When these muscles or tendons become damaged or inflamed, it can lead to rotator cuff-related shoulder pain. RCRSP is an umbrella term that encompasses rotator cuff tendinopathy, tendinosis, tendinitis, cuff tears, impingement and subacromial pain. RCRSP can have a multitude of causes that include repetitive use of the arm and shoulder (like in throwing sports, swimming, CrossFit or day to day activities like gardening, picking up young children, or even your dog who likes to pull on the lead during their daily walk), sudden changes in training volume or load, poor technique, trauma (for example a fall), inadequate strength and/or range of motion (due to things like tight muscles or poor posture).
Should you consider surgery? Physiotherapy has been shown to offer similar results to surgical repair for degenerative tears unrelated to a single injury. Engaging in consistent and progressive strength training can effectively prevent the need for surgery in 75% of cases. If pain is effectively managed within the initial 12 weeks through consistent and progressive exercise, the likelihood of requiring surgery in the future becomes significantly reduced. So many doctors and surgeons suggest you give physiotherapy a go for a minimum of 12 weeks to see if you can avoid surgery.
How can physiotherapy help? Physiotherapy plays an important role in managing and treating rotator cuff-related shoulder pain. By addressing the root causes of the pain, physiotherapy can reduce discomfort, improve shoulder function, and enhance overall well-being. Let’s dive into some specific physiotherapy techniques your physio might use during your physiotherapy sessions.
- Manual Therapy: One effective approach employed by physiotherapists is manual therapy. This technique involves hands-on techniques to mobilize and manipulate (it often feels like a massage) the affected shoulder joint and surrounding structures . A systematic review by Kooijman et al. (2020) highlighted the positive impact of manual therapy in reducing pain and improving shoulder function in individuals with rotator cuff-related shoulder pain.
- Therapeutic Exercises: Physiotherapists prescribe specific exercises to you based on your current abilities and pain levels. These exercises aim to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, improve flexibility, and restore normal shoulder mechanics. A randomized controlled trial conducted by Teixeira-Salmela et al. (2019) demonstrated the effectiveness of exercise-based interventions in reducing pain and enhancing function in patients with rotator cuff tendinopathy.
- Postural Correction and Ergonomic Advice: Physiotherapists also provide guidance on correcting posture and ergonomics (which means how things are set up for example your desk, workstation, car or even the sporting equipment you use when exercising), especially for individuals whose pain is aggravated by poor posture or occupational demands. This approach helps reduce the stress on the rotator cuff and promotes optimal shoulder alignment. A systematic review by Struyf et al. (2020) underscored the significance of postural correction in managing rotator cuff-related shoulder pain.
If you’re suffering from rotator cuff-related shoulder pain, physiotherapy can be a game-changer for your recovery. By employing techniques such as manual therapy, therapeutic exercises, modalities, and postural correction, physiotherapists can effectively reduce pain, enhance shoulder function, and improve your overall quality of life. So, don’t let shoulder pain hold you back. Book in with one of our superstar physiotherapists by calling (07) 37412802 or you can make an appointment online here and embark on a journey towards a pain-free shoulder!
- Kooijman MN, Swinkels ICS, Richter RR, van der Valk ES, van den Bekerom MPJ, Koes BW. Effectiveness of manual therapy and supervised exercise for patients with shoulder complaints: A systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2020;172(6):414-425.
- Teixeira-Salmela LF, Souza RB, Ribeiro NCP, et al. Exercise for rotator cuff tendinopathy: A systematic review. Phys Ther. 2019;99(6):749-764.
- Struyf F, Lluch Girbés E, Klüter T, et al. Scapular-focused approaches in treating individuals with shoulder pain: A systematic review of the last decade of literature. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2020;50(9):517-535.