November 5, 2013 — A rotator cuff tear is a common cause of pain and disability among adults. It weakens the shoulder making many simple daily activities like dressing or bathing difficult and painful.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons1, close to 2 million people in the U.S. sought medical treatment in 2008 because of a rotator cuff problem. Their research also shows that the incidence of rotator cuff damage increases with age suggesting that as the current population ages there will be an increase need for rotator cuff therapy.
While minor or partial tears generally heal with rehabilitation, full-thickness tears or complete tears (soft tissue is split into two pieces) often require surgical repair. However, some patients with complete rotator cuff tears have been successfully treated with physical or occupational therapy instead of surgery, thus likely reducing their healthcare costs and surgical risks. Recently researchers in Germany, looking to further reduce treatment costs, studied the effectiveness of home-based exercises to supervised therapy.2
Their findings, published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, showed that 66 percent of patients in both the home exercise and outpatient therapy groups improved their clinical test of shoulder impingement. Both groups also improved in pain, range of motion, strength and function; there was no significant difference between groups.
However, the home-based group significantly increased their health-related quality of life compared to supervised therapy. The psychological improvements of the home-based group were an unexpected finding of the researchers. They stated, “Patients obviously benefitted from the more active and self-reliant approach, which was in contrast to the more passive outpatient therapy.”
The study involved 38 patients with full-thickness rotator cuff tears. The patients were randomly assigned to either formal outpatient therapy (three times a week for eight weeks) or a daily home exercise program using TheraBand elastic resistance bands. After formal instruction, the home-based patients completed 30 minutes of exercise in the morning and in the afternoon. Exercises were provided in an exercise guide booklet. Download the Rotator Cuff Tear Home Exercise Protocol here.
In conclusion, a home-based exercise program with TheraBand resistance bands twice a day is comparable to formal therapy in the conservative management of rotator cuff tears, particularly those without much atrophy or retraction. The researchers stated, “Our results emphasize the simple but effective use of resistance bands.”
Source: Performance Health
1American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, OrthoInfo; Rotator Cuff Tears
2KJrischak et al. A prospective randomized controlled trial comparing occupational therapy with home-based exercises in conservative treatment of rotator cuff tears. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2013 Sep;22(9):1173-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jse.2013.01.008. Epub 2013 Mar 22.