I sometimes have patients who are very reluctant to consider physical therapy. Sometimes they have had a bad experience with therapy–it hurt more or didn’t help. Certain patients felt that the therapist was not spending enough time with them, or that their therapy was too expensive. Others say that they feel like they could easily do the therapy on their own at home. Physical therapy has significant value, and can definitely cure certain shoulder conditions. Therapy is useful for patients with rotator cuff tendonitis, bursitis, and shoulder blade pain. It is also very helpful for patients with neck pain. Physical therapy is absolutely necessary in order to achieve maximum benefit after shoulder surgery. Many patients can become pain-free if they 1) take it seriously 2) show up to their therapy sessions and 3) do their home exercises. About 50% of the patients that I send to therapy come back and tell me that it completely relieved their pain.It is important to understand that certain conditions do not improve with therapy. Carpal tunnel syndrome, for instance, is a problem that causes wrist and hand pain and tingling and numbness in the fingers. Patients with carpal have a nerve is compressed in the wrist. No amount of exercise, stretching, or strengthening is going to relieve the pressure on the nerve, and physical therapy is not prescribed. Another example is shoulder osteoarthritis. Although therapy may be helpful to improve motion and strength in the shoulder, it is unlikely to significantly improve pain in the shoulder with arthritis. It is unrealistic to think that therapy will cure arthritis.Physical therapy is a great place to start for many shoulder conditions, but especially for those involving the rotator cuff. Physical therapy definitely works, but as with any treatment, there are no guarantees and some patients do not respond. If you have had shoulder surgery, therapy is absolutely necessary for a full recovery. If therapy is not helpful, many patients benefit from steroid injections. See my other blog posts about that!
Finally, doing exercises on your own is never as helpful as actually going to a therapist, but if your problem isn’t too serious, it’s not a bad place to start. Ask your doctor before starting any therapy program.