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  • Writer's pictureDavid Wilderman

I’ve Torn My Rotator Cuff–Do I Need Surgery, Or Can Physical Therapy Help?

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

The shoulder joint is one of two ball and socket joints in the body (the other being the hip), making it one of the most mobile joints. However, possessing significant mobility comes with inherent instability, making it very prone to injury. Over time, this mobility can lead to injuries of the shoulder, including rotator cuff tears which, unfortunately, are fairly common. Statistics show that rotator cuff surgeries are performed on between 75,000 and 250,000 individuals per year in the United States, even with several studies indicating high failure rates. While there are numerous factors associated with these failure rates, Physical Therapy has been advocated as a first line of defense by many to avoid surgery.


A research study was performed by the MOON Shoulder Group (a group of prestigious orthopedic surgeons and research personnel from around the US) and published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, looking at the effectiveness of Physical Therapy in treating rotator cuff tears. This study followed over 400 patients that had rotator cuff tears and were currently receiving Physical Therapy to see if Physical Therapy alone could help these individuals reduce pain and return to normal function. These findings showed that after 6 weeks of Physical Therapy, only 9% of these individuals had opted to undergo rotator cuff repair surgery. At 12 weeks, only 15% opted for rotator cuff repair surgery. Over the entire course of the study, only 26% of individuals opted for rotator cuff repair surgery due to their symptoms and function.

In other words, 74% of these individuals with rotator cuff tears were able to avoid surgery and resume normal function without significant limitations. Of special interest was the fact that, if an individual did opt for rotator cuff repair surgery, it was most likely within the first 12 weeks. If individuals did not have surgery after 12 weeks of Physical Therapy they were most likely able to avoid surgery at a later date. This research study followed these 400 individuals for 2 years, which again meant that 3/4 of these people were able to carry on with their normal, everyday function and did not need surgery down the road.

Another recent research study again looked at the effectiveness of Physical Therapy in individuals with rotator cuff tears that did not undergo surgery. This study, also published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery followed subjects for, get this, 13 years! Their findings?…90% of these individuals had no or only slight pain in their shoulder. WOW!! Those are numbers I can live with!! And just imagine the cost savings…It has been reported that surgery often exceeds the costs on non-operative treatment (the cost for surgery–about $15,000. The cost for non-operative treatment–about $1,800). See: Holy smokes!! That’s an enormous difference that Physical Therapy can make, #1 in avoiding surgery, and #2 in saving the individual pain, time, and money (and not even considering the stress placed on your family!).

So, YES, a comprehensive, properly designed Physical Therapy program, which must include emphasis on enhancing range of motion, addressing muscle imbalances, and restoring dynamic stability of the shoulder joint, CAN absolutely help many individuals with rotator cuff tears avoid rotator cuff repair surgery.

If you or someone you know thinks that their shoulder pain is possibly due to a rotator cuff issue, don’t wait to take action. Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at to schedule your FREE 30-minute consultation to see how Physical Therapy can help you. Don’t delay–schedule now!

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