Have you or someone you’ve known had a rotator cuff repair? If so, you’re aware of the toll in which a surgery of that nature can take on your quality of life, stress levels, and ultimately your lifestyle. That being said, the alternative is living with a rotator cuff tear and the pain and limitations that come with it, right? Maybe not.

In the United States alone 18.9 million people report that they have chronic shoulder pain. Roughly 300,000 surgeries are performed for shoulder pain annually. Shoulder pain can cause limitations in things like:

Getting dressed


Putting dishes away


Recreational sports like kayaking, swimming, golf, and skiing

Here at Dee Physical Therapy, we don’t want you to have to miss out on those activities and this blog post will inform you on why you shouldn’t worry that your shoulder pain will lead to a rotator cuff repair. What we do know is that rotator cuff tears are quite prevalent in the pain-free population. A 2013 study in the Journal of Orthopedics found that roughly 10% of people in their 50’s have a rotator cuff tear (painful or not) and the percentage increases by decade until about 36% of people in their 80’s have a tear. So, rotator cuff tears are pretty common, but, how many of these people are in pain? What they found was that 50% of people in their 50’s who had tears were not in pain. Additionally, as you age, the non-painful tears outnumbered the painful rotator cuff tears by a 2:1 margin. What does this mean? It means that rotator cuff tears are increasingly common as we age and at least 50% of them aren’t painful!

But what about the 50% of people who do have a painful rotator cuff tear? Should they have surgery to repair it? Maybe. But, a 2014 study in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery found that 75% of participants who had a full-thickness rotator cuff tear and went to physical therapy for 6-12 weeks were able to avoid surgery! Clearly physical therapy can be extremely helpful for people who are looking to rehab a painful shoulder or to work towards a solution that avoids surgery. Physical therapy will work to reduce inflammation, build strength and endurance of the rotator cuff muscles, improve sleep, and help get you back to your former self!

To give you an example of how we might approach this with our patients, see below for a collection of exercises to get you started. These are not all-inclusive but can serve to get you moving in the right direction. At the end of the day, nothing substitutes for a thorough evaluation with a licensed physical therapist that can develop a more comprehensive and safe plan for you to follow.


Open Book: 20 times on each side


Sidelying Shoulder External Rotation: 3 rounds of 10-15 times, depending on the weight you choose


Scaption: 3 rounds of 10-15 times, depending on the weight you choose


Prone T: 3 rounds of 10-15 times, depending on the weight you choose


If you have any questions or concerns feel free to reach out to us at any of our 3 clinics or contact us here. We aim to help you feel good again!