Massage therapy is a great way to loosen up the usual body aches. But when it comes to shoulder injuries, is it ok to massage a torn rotator cuff?
Well, yes and no. This depends on the severity of your injury – severe tears with fractures are a big no. But if your shoulder is painful after a workout, a massage can give the relief you were looking for.
Below, we’ll discuss instances where a deep tissue massage helps with rotator cuff injuries. Here’s what we’ll cover, tap on any of the topics to go straight to its section:
- 5 instances where massage helps for a rotator cuff
- 3 scenarios where massage can worsen a rotator cuff injury
- Other treatment options for a torn rotator cuff
Let’s get started!
When should you massage a rotator cuff injury?
1) If you’re sore after a workout
You could accumulate trigger points around your shoulder muscles as you work out more.
Over time, they can cause pain, decrease your range of motion, and will definitely take the fun out of working out.
But, a session or two with your massage therapist can reduce these trigger points. (1) It’s also a great recovery tool to help bounce back after a tough workout.
2) If you have early morning shoulder stiffness
Have you had some shoulder stiffness in the morning? Well, this could be due to scar tissue build-up.
This can be a side effect while your body tries to heal your rotator cuff. It may also limit your range of motion, too.
There’s a massage technique that can help with that – cross-fiber friction massage. It may promote collagen formation to help heal scar tissue. (2) It can be painful at times, though.
3) Before going to bed
91% of people with shoulder problems experience night pain. (3) It may be so painful it can disrupt your sleeping patterns. A simple way to ward this off is to massage your shoulder girdle before going to bed.
For hard to reach areas such as your shoulder blades, you can use a tennis ball. Place it between your back and a sturdy wall and roll against it to release muscle tension.
This can help: How to ease shoulder pain at night?
4) If you’re allergic to painkillers
6% of the general population has a condition known as NSAID Hypersensitivity. (4) Basically, you’ll tend to have allergic reactions to pain medication, which can ironically lead you to more pain.
For people in this situation, massage therapy can be a good option for pain relief. It won’t have the terrible side effects as medications, but will still get the job done.
5) If you have heat or cold sensitivity
Conditions like diabetes and Raynaud’s disease reduce your ability to feel heat or cold. (5) This makes you prone to skin burns after using heating pads or ice packs.
The good news is that massage therapy is a good replacement. These conditions don’t affect your ability to feel touch and pressure, so you’ll be able to feel the relief.
When is massage bad for rotator cuff injury?
Here are a few examples of when a deep tissue massage can worsen a rotator cuff tear:
1) Presence of redness and swelling
Both of these symptoms mean that your injury is still new and in the initial stage of recovery. At this point, doing massage increases inflammation of your shoulders, delaying your healing.
Learn more: How do you know if your rotator cuff is torn?
2) After surgery
Most surgical procedures use a graft to repair your rotator cuff tear. During the early weeks of post-surgery, minimal shoulder movement is necessary to help your graft mature and heal faster.
3) Lingering shoulder issues
Traumatic rotator cuff injuries are often accompanied by dislocation, muscle tears, or an arm bone fracture. (6)
All these injuries need to keep your shoulder socket stabilized, either by a cast or arm sling. In this case, doing a massage may affect their alignment and delay healing.
Other treatment options for a torn rotator cuff
A physical therapist will assess your shoulder joint and assist you with exercises to deal with your rotator cuff problems. Shoulder rehabilitation can take anywhere between three months to six months.
Further reading: How to heal a rotator cuff naturally?
Consulting your orthopedic doctor can help guide you on which rotator cuff repair is best for you. Full recovery can take at least 8 months.
What should you NOT do with rotator cuff injuries?
Avoid overhead and repetitive motions for rotator cuff injuries. Also, it is better if you keep away from sleeping on your affected arm temporarily.
Why is massage therapy appropriate for shoulder pain?
Massaging your rotator cuff muscles helps decrease pain and muscle tension with little risk of complications.
Where do you massage your rotator cuff tendons?
You can massage your rotator cuff around your shoulder girdle and shoulder blade.
How many muscles does the rotator cuff have?
The rotator cuff consists of four muscles located in the upper arm – the subscapularis, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, and teres minor.
Massage is an inexpensive yet effective treatment for a rotator cuff injury. You can try it out yourself or, for more specialized treatment, book a session with a skilled massage therapist.
- Moraska, Albert F et al. “Responsiveness of Myofascial Trigger Points to Single and Multiple Trigger Point Release Massages: A Randomized, Placebo Controlled Trial.” American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation vol. 96,9 (2017): 639-645. DOI: 10.1097/PHM.0000000000000728
- Miake-Lye, Isomi M et al. “Massage for Pain: An Evidence Map.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 25,5 (2019): 475-502. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2018.0282
- Khazzam, Michael S et al. “Sleep Quality in Patients With Rotator Cuff Disease.” The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons vol. 26,6 (2018): 215-222. DOI: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-16-00547
- Lipscomb, Justina et al. “Management of Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug-Induced Hypersensitivity Reactions”. US Pharm. 2019;44(3):22-26. https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/management-of-nonsteroidal-antiinflammatory-druginduced-hypersensitivity-reactions
- Musa R, Qurie A. Raynaud Disease. [Updated 2021 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499833/
- Simank, H-G et al. “Incidence of rotator cuff tears in shoulder dislocations and results of therapy in older patients.” Archives of orthopaedic and trauma surgery vol. 126,4 (2006): 235-40. DOI: 10.1007/s00402-005-0034-0