If you’re here, you probably know surgery isn’t always necessary for rotator cuff injuries. So, the only thing you need to learn is how to heal a torn rotator cuff naturally.
Well, below you’ll learn 9 ways to heal this shoulder injury naturally. Also, you’ll get some recommendations to boost your recovery.
Here’s what we’ll cover – click on any topic to go straight there:
- 9 ways to heal your rotator cuff naturally
- Can non-surgical treatments heal a rotator cuff injury?
- When is surgery necessary?
9 ways to heal a rotator cuff tear naturally
1) Change your activities
Overhead and repetitive shoulder movements are a no-go, as they can worsen your rotator cuff injury. But, you still need to do activities that require those movements, right?
Here are a few tips to do them without reinjuring your rotator cuff tear:
- Use a ladder or stool if you’re trying to reach an object that is so high up.
- Place frequent-use items below shoulder level, like on countertops or tables.
If you work out, try to avoid movements that can worsen your rotator cuff tear. Replace them with other exercises while your shoulder heals.
This will help: 8 rotator cuff movements to avoid + what to do instead
2) Change your sleeping position
Most people with rotator cuff tears have trouble sleeping due to night pain. And, this symptom can get worse by sleeping on your affected arm. (1)
Fortunately, getting a good night’s sleep is as easy as changing your sleep position. You can do so by:
- Sleeping on your good side. It may take a while but it’ll help reduce pain.
- Adding more pillows on your head to get a good head and neck alignment.
- Avoiding sleeping with your arms overhead.
This may help: Best sleeping positions for shoulder pain
3) Daily dose of vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for rotator cuff injuries. It supports bone and tendon healing, as well as decreasing inflammation. (2)
Sunlight exposure for 10-30mins at midday helps stimulate our body’s production of vitamin D. Just make sure to have sunblock on!
If you live in mostly cloudy weather, there are supplements available. Make sure you’re taking at least 400–800 IU (10–20 mcg) of Vitamin D to get your daily requirements. (3)
4) Quit smoking
We all know nicotine is extremely addictive. But another side effect is that it restricts the amount of blood flow reaching injured tissues. This means fewer nutrients, thus poor recovering capabilities.
So, over time, smoking can prevent your shoulder muscles from getting the much-needed nutrients to repair themselves.
I know it can be tough to quit smoking cold turkey. Thankfully, there are thousands of other ways to overcome this addiction, like:
- Government websites offering free support, like smokefree.gov
- Free support lines, like 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669)
- Science-based apps that specialize in tobacco addiction, such as QuitGenius
5) Be more active
Being more active helps improve oxygen and nutrient delivery to your rotator cuff tendon. Also, it helps lower your BMI and sugar level to prevent fat build-up around your upper arm and trunk. (4)
This fat build-up can occupy the space in and around your torn rotator cuff tendons, which leads to a decrease in muscle size and strength.
This in turn weakens your rotator cuff muscles, making it harder for them to heal from a tear.
6) Use the RICE method
This method has long been the go-to treatment for any physical impairment, including a rotator cuff tear. It’s an acronym that stands for:
This means taking time off of activities for a few days to let your shoulder joint relax
Ice helps in pain relief and reduces inflammation. To do it, place an ice pack or cold compress over your shoulder for 20 mins.
Compression around the injured area helps with inflammation as well. To do it, wrap your shoulder with an elastic bandage.
Another strategy for managing swelling and inflammation. To do it, place the injured area above heart level.
7) Include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet
Certain foods have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, thus promoting recovery. These are:
- Fruits like berries, oranges, and cherries.
- Almonds and walnuts.
- Olive oil.
- Leafy greens like kale and spinach.
- Salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
Include these types of food into your next meal to reduce inflammation.
8) Epsom salt bath
Epsom salt contains magnesium and sulfate ions that help decrease inflammation. (5)
The combination of Epsom salt plus a warm bath helps your rotator cuff muscle to relax, which rapidly improves the healing process.
To do it:
- Fill your bathtub with warm water.
- Add a cup or two of Epsom salt into it.
- Submerge your affected shoulder under the water.
The longer you can stay in the water, the better!
9) Physical therapy
Physical therapy can help you recover from a torn rotator cuff and prevent future injuries. The length of your rehab will vary depending on your symptoms, and will consist of:
- Using ice or heat to relieve joint pain and swelling.
- Shoulder strengthening exercises to promote healing.
- Stretching exercises to reduce muscle tension.
- Shoulder blade mobilization to improve your mobility.
Will non-surgical treatments work for a rotator cuff injury?
Non-surgical treatments show an 80% success rate in dealing with rotator cuff injuries. (6) They may not fix what is already torn, but they can help you function well without any pain or weakness.
Here are a few more reasons why you should consider non-surgical treatments:
- Lower cost. You don’t have to pay for hospitalization and pain medications.
- Less downtime. You can still work and do daily tasks while recovering.
- Minimal risk of complications. No consequences from anesthesia or a large incision to take care of.
Learn more: Can a rotator cuff tear heal itself?
When is surgery necessary for a rotator cuff tear?
Unfortunately, non-surgical treatments are not 100% effective for all rotator cuff tears. And honestly, surgical treatments aren’t 100% effective, either.
But, it’s true that some people may have a better chance of recovery with surgery. In the following instances, a surgical approach may provide better results than non-surgical treatments (7):
- If you can’t find symptom relief after 3-6 months of nonsurgical treatments.
- Young athletes with high shoulder stress.
- Overhead workers or laborers.
- A rotator cuff tear coming from a traumatic injury.
- Grating sound with intense shoulder pain.
Further reading: Rotator cuff tear recovery timeline depending on the treatment
When should I worry about my shoulder pain?
Visit a doctor if your pain is unbearable, if you’ve had recent trauma to your shoulder, or if you’re unable to lift your arms past shoulder level.
How can I heal my rotator cuff at home?
With the RICE method, changing your sleep position, temporarily modify your activities to promote healing. Visit a physical therapist for customized advice.
What to do about rotator cuff tendinitis?
Avoid activities that can trigger your rotator cuff pain and consult your doctor for appropriate care.
A few lifestyle changes may be all it takes for you to heal your rotator cuff tear naturally. But if the pain persists, please visit a doctor or physical therapist for advanced recovery strategies.
- Zenian, John. “Sleep position and shoulder pain.” Medical hypotheses vol. 74,4 (2010): 639-43. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.11.013 DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.11.013
- Dougherty, Kaitlin A et al. “Vitamin D and the immunomodulation of rotator cuff injury.” Journal of inflammation research vol. 9 123-31. 14 Jun. 2016, DOI: 10.2147/JIR.S106206
- Pilz, Stefan et al. “Vitamin D testing and treatment: a narrative review of current evidence.” Endocrine connections vol. 8,2 (2019): R27-R43. DOI: 10.1530/EC-18-0432
- Jensen, Andrew R et al. “Factors Influencing the Reparability and Healing Rates of Rotator Cuff Tears.” Current reviews in musculoskeletal medicine vol. 13,5 (2020): 572-583. DOI: 10.1007/s12178-020-09660-w
- Proksch, Ehrhardt et al. “Bathing in a magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improves skin barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin.” International journal of dermatology vol. 44,2 (2005): 151-7. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2005.02079.x
- Edwards, Peter et al. “EXERCISE REHABILITATION IN THE NON-OPERATIVE MANAGEMENT OF ROTATOR CUFF TEARS: A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE.” International journal of sports physical therapy vol. 11,2 (2016): 279-301. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827371/
- “Arthroscopic shoulder surgery for the treatment of rotator cuff tears” UW Medicine Orthopedic and Sports Medicine. Accessed 10 Dec 2021. https://orthop.washington.edu/patient-care/articles/sports/arthroscopic-shoulder-surgery-for-the-treatment-of-rotator-cuff-tears