Can a partial rotator cuff tear heal on its own?

young man holds his shoulder in pain

Hi, I know that physical therapy for a partial rotator cuff tear can restore mobility and eliminate pain, but can the tendon tear actually 'heal' by regenerating the part of the tendon that's torn and repairing itself? Or is it just the symptoms that physical therapy addresses, and the tear will always be there?

Disclaimer: Please note, this reply is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, physical therapist, or other qualified health provider with a medical condition.

Things to Know

  • Tendons with partial tears can heal and repair themselves.
  • Three stages of healing for a partial tear include: inflammation, repair and remodeling.
  • Physical therapy can help reduce symptoms and improve function during healing.
  • Complete rotator cuff tears require surgery to reattach.

Thank you for reaching out. Without a formal evaluation, we are unable to comment on the specifics of your condition. However, we can provide some general guidance on how to address symptoms like these.  

Tendons with partial tears can heal and repair themselves just like many of the other structures in our bodies over time. It is important to note, however, that full-thickness tears (also known as complete tears) will not heal back together (or “reattach”) without surgical repair. It is possible that the surrounding muscles can successfully compensate in the absence of a reattachment, depending on individual goals and recovery. 

The three stages of healing for a partial tear include inflammation, repair and remodeling.

Typically for young, healthy individuals, tendons repair in about 4-6 weeks (for others who are elderly or have additional health issues it may take longer).

The healing process starts with inflammation, which is followed by the laying down of scar tissue. The new and old tissue continues to improve with strengthening exercises and the right amount of movement over the next several months. Physical therapy can help to reduce symptoms while improving function throughout this healing window and beyond. 

Generally, physical therapists prescribe exercises that allow the body to heal by gradually working on strengthening the tendon and surrounding structures. This provides an ideal environment which allows the new scar-like tissue to have the necessary mobility that promotes improved function and reduced symptoms.   

We strongly recommend an evaluation by a physical therapist to further assess your symptoms and provide interventions to meet your specific needs. Physical therapy services help individuals reach their goals, reduce symptoms, and prevent symptom progression.  

Additional resources:

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