New England is pleased to see the Patriots back in the AFC playoffs, but that isn’t without suffering injuries along the way. Martellus Bennet, who tore his rotator cuff and labrum while with the Packers, played only two weeks with the Patriots. He had to stop due to shoulder pain that needed surgery, despite his effort to play through it.
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint and is also the most unstable joint in our bodies and hence prone to injury. The rotator cuff is made up of 4 small muscles that are responsible for holding the shoulder in the socket. Many are not aware of the importance of their rotator cuff and therefore do not work on strengthening this group of muscles. A rotator cuff injury, or tear, can be mild or debilitating. It can happen at any time, is often the result of repetitive motions or with falls on outstretched arms, and can resolve on its own or may need surgery.
Shoulder pain that is constant and keeps you up at night is a red flag to seek medical attention. Another way of knowing you need to get your shoulder looked at is if you can’t lift your arm and need to use your other arm to help raise it up. Seeing your PCP, or physical therapist, can help you determine if it is something that will heal on its own or need further attention. In the meantime, ice and rest will help calm your shoulder down until you are scheduled to see your provider.
If you require surgery to repair your rotator cuff, as Martellus Bennet did, the early phase of your recovery is protecting the integrity of the repair and preventing infection. Your doctor will likely put you in a sling for a period of time, usually 4-6 weeks, and it is important to manage swelling with frequent ice sessions. You will begin moving the shoulder passively (e.g., your repaired arm is moved by the other arm or therapist) with gradual participation of the repaired arm until you have full active motion, usually around 2-3 months. During this time, you will make sure the muscles above and below the shoulder continue to be used and slowly incorporate shoulder strengthening itself. After three months or so, with full motion and strength, you will start working on more rigorous activities for your arm.
By Effie Koustas, MPT