(05/20/13) - There may be away to help one of the most painful injuries without surgery. A torn rotator cuff is not just an athlete's injury. In fact, some of the worst injuries are one more of those things that come along with age.
The pain was so bad, every day tasks were agonizing for Kay Subhawong, "I couldn't lift this right arm to take plates out of the cupboard."
She has a torn rotator cuff. The small muscles that hold the shoulder joint together have ripped apart.
"That type of rotator cuff tear occurs with aging just like getting wrinkles or gray hair," says Vanderbilt University's Chief of Shoulder Surgery, Dr. John E. Kuhn.
Kay thought her only option was an operation, "I was really scared. I am not a fan of surgery."
Something Dr. Kuhn says is a very involved process, "it usually takes people about four months before they can even think to get back to any kind of labor type work and it usually takes a year to get a full recovery."
But, Dr. Kuhn convinced Kay to skip surgery and to try something different he has been working on with a network of doctors. They call themselves the MOON Shoulder Group, and their mission is researching the best options for bad shoulders.
"We found the exercises programs that were found to be effective at treating rotator cuff disease and consolidated them into one physical therapy program," Kuhn says.
The program focuses on range of motion, flexibility, and strengthening; and Kuhn admits it is not a cure, "we do not expect the therapy program to make someone's tendon heal, uh, but it does take their pain away."
After six weeks of exercises, Kay says, "I still hurt. I was still miserable."
But after 12 weeks, she says, "you know my arm doesn't really hurt."
A study of 452 rotator cuff tear patients found the exercise program helped 85 percent avoid surgery, Kuhn says, "and the effects last for two, up to five years so far."
Kay finished the program about five years ago, "and I really have not had trouble since."
The entire shoulder program is available for free online, at WWW.MOONSHOULDER.COM. Just make sure you share it with your doctor before you start.
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