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Nonsurgical Treatments for Torn Rotator Cuff

NYU Langone doctors may recommend several nonsurgical treatments for a torn rotator cuff. These treatments may be beneficial for a partial tear, in which none of the tendons are fully detached from the bone. They may also be offered to patients with full tears who cannot have surgery because of underlying conditions.

Rest and Activity Modification

Your doctor may recommend rest and activity modification to help reduce joint pain and swelling caused by a partial rotator cuff tear. You may be asked to adjust how you perform daily activities such as lifting items or reaching overhead, to reduce the stress placed on your shoulder. How long you need to rest the shoulder is based on the severity of the tear. You can gradually return to your usual activities as the shoulder heals and symptoms subside.

Pain Management

The inflammation of soft tissue surrounding a rotator cuff tear can cause pain and discomfort in the shoulder, especially when you use your arm. Medications may be an important part of managing this inflammation.

Your doctor may suggest taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to reduce inflammation and pain. If severe shoulder pain prevents you from participating in daily activities such as going to work, doctors may offer prescription pain relievers for one or two weeks. These medications can mask pain and help you to function. Doctors at NYU Langone do not recommend using them long term.

Icing the shoulder periodically throughout the day may help to reduce pain and swelling. Your doctor talks to you about how often and for how long icing may be beneficial for you.

Physical or Occupational Therapy

Our physical or occupational therapists at NYU Langone Orthopedic Center can create an individualized rehabilitation plan to help you recover from a torn rotator cuff.

Your therapist helps you build strength and flexibility in the shoulder, arm, and back muscles. This helps to stabilize the shoulder joint, relieve pain, improve range of motion, and prevent further tearing.

Your therapist also teaches you how to safely perform daily activities, such as lifting your arm to wash your hair, and how to modify your work space to reduce stress on your injured shoulder.

The number of weeks of physical or occupational therapy you do is based on the severity of the rotator cuff tear.

Corticosteroid Injections

Our doctors may recommend injections of corticosteroids, also known as steroids, if your pain becomes much more severe. These injections, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties, are typically only recommended after other medications have not worked to provide relief. Our doctors limit the use of corticosteroid injections because they can weaken the tendons in the shoulder.

Tobacco Cessation

Quitting smoking before to rotator cuff surgery is critical because tobacco use negatively affects healing the repair. If you smoke, and if surgery is likely your next option, you may be referred to NYU Langone’s Tobacco Cessation Programs.

Our Research and Education in Torn Rotator Cuff

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.