Rotator cuff tears aren’t just painful, they also limit your ability to perform basic daily tasks. Going without any treatment is unbearable, but some rotator cuff tear therapies, like surgery, can limit functioning in your shoulder even more.
So what are the other options? Is there a therapy for rotator cuff tears that doesn’t make the problem worse before it gets better? And what kind of treatment is best for you? Does collagen help a rotator cuff injury? What about a sling?
Before you can choose the right therapy, you’ll need to know more about what kind of tear you have.
What is a rotator cuff tear?
A rotator cuff tear is an injury to one of several tendons and muscles that make up your shoulder joint. The rotator cuff, as you can probably guess, helps your arm to rotate. These muscles work hard any time you move your shoulder, lift heavy things, or climb.
There are a few different ways to get a rotator cuff tear, but tears by any cause are more common with age. And these are also one of the most common causes of shoulder pain, especially for people who have jobs with repetitive arm motions.
Even those of us who don’t shoot basketballs or operate heavy machinery can get a rotator cuff injury, though. These injuries can also be caused by a sudden amount of strain on your shoulder that damages the tissues in your rotator cuff.
The rotator cuff tear therapies you’ll need to repair this injury will depend on whether you have a partial rotator cuff tear or a full-thickness rotator cuff tear.
Partial vs full-thickness tears
Usually, the therapy for your rotator cuff tear will only be invasive if you have a full-thickness tear. In this kind of tear, one of the tendons connecting your muscles to your shoulder bone completely snaps. This is intensely painful, and sometimes causes a total loss of movement in your shoulder. Therapy for rotator cuff tears that are full-thickness usually involves surgery.
Thankfully, partial-thickness tears are much more common. In a partial-thickness tear, the tendon or one of the muscles around it is damaged, but everything is still connected. Some partial-thickness tears are worse than others, but many are much easier to care for.
Rotator cuff tear therapies for partial-thickness tears can involve anything from a sling to injections.
No matter what kind of tear you have, though, you’ll benefit from medical nutrition therapy techniques tailored to your healing journey. Medical nutrition therapy helps you heal by providing your body with foods and supplements full of the nutrients it needs to repair tissue.
Rotator cuff tear symptoms
Some symptoms to look for if you think you might have a rotator cuff include:
Shoulder pain, especially at night or after long periods of not moving your shoulder
Stiffness or inability to move your arm
Difficulty raising your arms above your head
- Popping, clicking, or cracking sounds when you move your arm
If you’re experiencing any of these, it’s time to look into rotator cuff tear therapies and make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
9 best rotator cuff tear therapies
You’ll need to look for two things when choosing a therapy for a rotator cuff tear. First, it needs to match the level of tear you have. There’s no need to prepare for surgery if you only have a minor partial-thickness tear!
Second, any rotator cuff tear therapies you consider should be evidence-based. Talk to your healthcare team and look for peer-reviewed research studies about the effectiveness of treatments. This helps you prepare for the kind of help you should expect.
Some therapies, like steroid injections, work instantly to relieve pain but don’t help much with long-term healing. Others, like taking supplements to heal a rotator cuff tear, usually don’t provide instant pain relief, but can speed up your long-term healing.
Here are some of the therapies you should consider for your rotator cuff injury:
Surgery is only needed for intense rotator cuff tears. If this is your first tear, or it’s not full-thickness, you likely won’t need surgery. As a rotator cuff tear treatment, surgery is usually a last resort. This is because surgery can open you up to complications like infection, and the healing process is usually very different from a partial-thickness tear.
Before surgery, your healthcare team will likely recommend exploring several other rotator cuff tear therapies.
2. Stem cell therapy
Stem cell therapy for rotator cuff tears has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years.
Stem cells are special cells that the body produces that can become several different types of cells, depending on where they’re needed. Babies and young children have more stem cells, but the number of them is reduced as we age.
So how do stem cells fit into rotator cuff tear therapies?
A doctor will pull bone marrow from your hip and use a machine to draw out the stem cells. These cells are then injected right into your shoulder, where they can help repair any damaged tissue. Usually, stem cell injections require little to no downtime, unlike surgery.
3. Steroid injections
While both surgery and stem cell therapy aim to help your body heal, there’s another problem anyone with a rotator cuff tear experiences: pain. No matter how severe your tear is, rotator cuff injuries are intensely painful.
Steroid injections are one of the only rotator cuff tear therapies that provide instant pain relief, but only for a little while. These injections can contain methylprednisolone, lignocaine, xylocaine, betamethasone, and/or triamcinolone acetonide. These are all steroids that help to reduce swelling and/or reduce pain.
The main issue with this treatment is that steroids get less effective over time. Initially, steroid injections can significantly reduce pain. But if you have severe or frequent tears, these injections will quickly stop providing that same relief.
4. Pain management
Even with other rotator cuff tear therapies, you’ll need to have a plan for pain management. Surgery and physical therapy can both make the pain worse initially, and injections won’t work for long. You’ll want to have a variety of pain management options on hand.
Heat and ice can both help with pain – heat when your shoulder is feeling stiff and weak and ice when your shoulder feels inflamed. Over-the-counter pain medications like Ibuprofen (Motrin) and Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help with prolonged soreness.
Many people find some of the worst pain from their rotator cuff tear is when they’re sleeping, and the way you sleep is important.
You’ll want to avoid laying on your side or your belly. For the first few days, recliners and wedge pillows can be effective rotator cuff tear therapies. These help to prevent you from accidentally rolling onto your side.
5. Physical therapy
Sometimes, you don’t just need to worry about healing, you also need to make sure your shoulder gets stronger to avoid re-injury. Physical therapy is a tool that can help you strengthen your shoulder as it heals and learn to take some of the strain off your rotator cuff.
Physical therapy is one of the most common and effective rotator cuff tear therapies, partly because it trains your other muscles to do some of the work your rotator cuff can’t.
You can even use physical therapy techniques at home, which is helpful if working with a physical therapist is out of reach.
6. Slings and kinesiology therapeutic tape
Slings and kinesiology tape are also at-home rotator cuff tear therapies. These help your tear heal by immobilizing the area. While you don’t want your shoulder to be too stiff, sometimes the muscles and tendons need to rest to recover.
Spending time with your arm in a sling during the day prevents you from using that arm. And while this does allow your arm to rest, it’s important to check in with your doctor while using this therapy for a rotator cuff tear.
Your arm staying immobile for too long can impact the range of motion and slow your healing.
Kinesiology therapeutic tape (KT tape) doesn’t completely immobilize your shoulder. Instead, it offers support and light compression to prevent the damaged tissue from moving too much while it's healing.
Some studies are uncertain about the effectiveness of KT tape, but more research is needed. And in the meantime, there’s a mountain of anecdotal evidence from physical therapists and patients alike.
Like many other rotator cuff tear therapies, KT tape is best used alongside other treatments.
7. Altering activity
Simply changing what you do day-to-day can make a huge difference if you suspect you have a rotator cuff tear but aren’t sure, and or if you have a mild rotator cuff injury. Any extra motion in your shoulder, including lifting or carrying things, can make the pain worse.
For many daily tasks, like putting on a shirt, there’s an alternative that takes some strain off of your shoulder. If you do repetitive tasks or lift heavy things at work, consider finding ways to reduce the strain on the shoulder that hurts.
Altering your activity is another of the rotator cuff tear therapies that anyone can do, and it can make a big difference in your healing.
8. Supplements to heal a rotator cuff tear
Several different supplements can be effective rotator cuff tear therapies. Some act by helping to reduce pain and inflammation overall, while others provide your body with the necessary nutrients for rebuilding tissue.
When shopping for supplements, you ideally want to use medical-grade supplements. These are supplements that have been approved for use in medical settings, such as hospitals, and are held to higher standards than other supplements.
Vitamins A, C, D, and B12 can all help your rotator cuff tear to heal, largely by helping your body rearrange amino acids into muscle proteins. Amino acids are molecules that your body needs to build and repair the muscle and tendon tissues damaged in the injury – something no other rotator cuff tear therapies can do.
Omega 3 fatty acids, or fish oil, are rich in those same amino acids, making them another option.
For help with inflammation, try Boswellia and curcumin supplements! And, of course, make sure that you speak with your healthcare team before trying any new supplements, especially if you’re taking prescription medication.
9. Collagen to heal a rotator cuff tear
Many of the supplements that can be used as rotator cuff tear therapies are at their best when they’re paired with a very special protein: collagen.
Does collagen help a rotator cuff injury? Yes!
Your tendons and muscles are up to 80% collagen, so when they’re damaged, collagen is what your body uses to repair them.
What if you need surgery? Does collagen help a rotator cuff injury if it’s a full tear? Absolutely!
Collagen peptides benefits include improved post-surgery care.
Whole collagen molecules are difficult for your body to process, too, which is why collagen peptides, or hydrolyzed collagen, can be so helpful. There are many different sources of collagen in foods like eggs or salmon, but the collagen molecules in those are difficult for your body to digest.
Hydrolyzed collagen, on the other hand, is easy for your body to digest and put to work repairing tissue! Collagen is an excellent option to pair with other rotator cuff tear therapies, and it has been shown to help speed the repair of injured tendons.
Choosing the right therapy for rotator cuff tear healing
No matter what rotator cuff tear therapies you explore, you don’t have to go it alone. You have your healthcare team, but you also have teams upon teams of researchers. These researchers are doing the work of finding out which therapies are most effective for you.
“Does collagen help a rotator cuff injury?” “Is it better to keep my arm in a sling?” If you’re asking yourself these questions, you aren’t the first one to wonder. Physicians and researchers want your shoulder to heal as much as you do, and they’ve spent years learning about it.
Finding the right therapy for rotator cuff tear healing can be overwhelming, and you might have to try a few different therapies before finding the one that works best.
No matter where you are in the healing process, though, you can take the first step towards long-term healing by taking a medical-grade collagen supplement to give your body all the nutrients it needs to heal.