Can A Torn Rotator Cuff Heal On Its Own Without Surgery?

By Chris Centeno, MD / Last reviewed on

Receive a Regenexx® Patient Info Packet by email and learn why it's a superior regenerative solution.

Will rotator cuff tears heal without surgery?

Are you wondering, “Can a torn rotator cuff heal on its own without surgery?” This and others are common questions asked by many of the 40,000 patients each year that opt for surgery to repair their torn rotator cuff. The answers to these queries contribute to a patient’s decision on whether to have surgery, but may also create a sense of urgency to jump into a procedure that may very well be unnecessary.

As we have discussed in many articles before, there is a good amount of research showing that surgery is largely ineffective for many types of rotator cuff tears. And in larger tears of the rotator cuff, approximately 6 in 10 don’t heal properly, even with surgery.

Many surgical patients never recover full range of motion following surgery. For patients over 60, shoulder surgery recovery is even more difficult, with 1 in 3 rotator cuff tears not healing in that age group.

What are Some Common Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms?

People who have injured their rotator cuff will likely experience a number of common symptoms. They can include feeling pain when you lift or lower your arm, pain at night or while at rest, a crackling sensation when you move your shoulder in certain ways, and a general weakness when you rotate or lift your arm. If you have one or more of these symptoms, you may need to get your shoulder looked at.

Will a Rotator Cuff Tear Get Bigger Without Surgery?

will a rotator cuff tear heal

A recent research study showed that even a complete tear wasn’t very likely to get bigger. In this study, 24 patients who had full thickness supraspinatus tears and who opted to forego surgery were tracked over time. In 2 of the 24 patients, the rotator cuff tear completely healed on its own. In 9 of the 24 the tear was smaller. In another 9 out of the 24 patients the rotator cuff tear size didn’t change. In only 6 of the 24 patients, the tear was found to be bigger. So in 75% of the patients, the tear was either healed, smaller, or didn’t change.

Rotator Cuff Tears and Muscle Atrophy

This phenomenon can occur and involves the rotator cuff muscles shrinking and being replaced by fat. While there was a slight trend in that direction, no patient had serious fatty atrophy at follow-up. In addition, this study is consistent with another study that shows that the size of a rotator cuff tear is more likely than not to stay stable.

Can a Torn Rotator Cuff Heal On Its Own Without Surgery?

Using the data from the studies above, it is safe to say that a few rotator cuff tears will heal on their own without intervention and that surgery really isn’t that great of an option.

One of the problems with surgery is that when a rotator cuff tears on its own, or with minor trauma, the tissue has become very unhealthy. This is caused by the structure of the tendon becoming weak and degenerated. Based on new research, rotator cuff tears are linked to a reduction in the natural number of functional stem cells in the tissue. While this may come as a surprise that your body maintains itself via adult stem cells living in tissue, that’s how it works.

For this reason, surgically sewing together a tear can be like sewing damaged tissue paper to damaged tissue paper, which is why we see very high retear rates after surgery. And unless something is done to replace the lack of stem cells needed for healing, the tissue can’t repair itself with the same ability as when it was young. One recent study showed that the rotator cuff retear rates fell by half when stem cell injections were used after surgery.

Can You Skip the Surgery Altogether by Just Using Your Own Stem Cells?

If you’ve ever seen anyone walking around in a pillow immobilizer brace for weeks on end, you intuitively know that surgery is horribly invasive. What if for about 70-80% of rotator cuff tears you could avoid the surgery and have a much quicker recovery? That’s the procedure that we have pioneered over the last decade. Instead of surgery, you get an ultra-precise injection of your own stem cells under ultrasound guidance, and you don’t have to worry about rotator cuff surgery recovery time.

Rotator cuff tears are one of the most commonly treated conditions across the Regenexx Network and we consistently see good outcomes in these patients. Having said that, while most tears will heal with just a precise injection, there are a few massive rotator cuff tears that are unlikely to be helped without surgery. Keep in mind that even after surgery, stem cell injections, as discussed in the study above, will likely assist in the healing and improvement of tissue health following surgery.

The upshot?  In the structural paradigm of orthopedics we live in the question “Can a torn rotator cuff heal on it’s own without surgery?” is all too often answered by telling patients that their rotator cuff tears will get bigger over time if surgery isn’t performed immediately. According to research, waiting to see if the tear heals or gets smaller might make a lot of sense. If you’re like most people with a rotator cuff tear, you will likely be able to skip the invasive surgery altogether! Lastly, to ensure the best chance of success, select a Regenexx Network Physician, who are all trained in ultra-precise injection techniques, and will determine whether the Regenexx patented stem cell protocol or super concentrated platelet rich plasma is the best treatment option for the severity and condition of your rotator cuff tear.

Click here for Shoulder Outcomes

The information above includes treatments for additional shoulder conditions. For an infographic on a smaller number of Rotator Cuff tear patients only, click here.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
View Profile

Get Blog Updates by Email

Get fresh updates and insights from Regenexx delivered straight to your inbox.

Regenerative procedures are commonly used to treat musculoskelatal trauma, overuse injuries, and degenerative issues, including failed surgeries.
Select Your Problem Area
Shoulder

Shoulder

Many Shoulder and Rotator Cuff injuries are good candidates for regenerative treatments. Before considering shoulder arthroscopy or shoulder replacement, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.

  • Rotator Cuff Tears and Tendinitis
  • Shoulder Instability
  • SLAP Tear / Labral Tears
  • Shoulder Arthritis
  • Other Degenerative Conditions & Overuse Injuries
Learn More
Cervical Spine

Spine

Many spine injuries and degenerative conditions are good candidates for regenerative treatments and there are a number of studies showing promising results in treating a wide range of spine problems. Spine surgery should be a last resort for anyone, due to the cascade of negative effects it can have on the areas surrounding the surgery. And epidural steroid injections are problematic due to their long-term negative impact on bone density.

  • Herniated, Bulging, Protruding Discs
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • SI Joint Syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Pinched Nerves and General Back Pain
  • And more
Learn More
Knee

Knees

Knees are the target of many common sports injuries. Sadly, they are also the target of a number of surgeries that research has frequently shown to be ineffective or minimally effective. Knee arthritis can also be a common cause for aging athletes to abandon the sports and activities they love. Regenerative procedures can be used to treat a wide range of knee injuries and conditions. They can even be used to reduce pain and delay knee replacement for more severe arthritis.

  • Knee Meniscus Tears
  • Knee ACL Tears
  • Knee Instability
  • Knee Osteoarthritis
  • Other Knee Ligaments / Tendons & Overuse Injuries
  • And more
Learn More
Lower Spine

Spine

Many spine injuries and degenerative conditions are good candidates for regenerative treatments and there are a number of studies showing promising results in treating a wide range of spine problems. Spine surgery should be a last resort for anyone, due to the cascade of negative effects it can have on the areas surrounding the surgery. And epidural steroid injections are problematic due to their long-term negative impact on bone density.

  • Herniated, Bulging, Protruding Discs
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • SI Joint Syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Pinched Nerves and General Back Pain
  • And more
Learn More
Hand & Wrist

Hand & Wrist

Hand and wrist injuries and arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and conditions relating to overuse of the thumb, are good candidates for regenerative treatments. Before considering surgery, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.
  • Hand and Wrist Arthritis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Trigger Finger
  • Thumb Arthritis (Basal Joint, CMC, Gamer’s Thumb, Texting Thumb)
  • Other conditions that cause pain
Learn More
Elbow

Elbow

Most injuries of the elbow’s tendons and ligaments, as well as arthritis, can be treated non-surgically with regenerative procedures.

  • Golfer’s elbow & Tennis elbow
  • Arthritis
  • Ulnar collateral ligament wear (common in baseball pitchers)
  • And more
Learn More
Hip

Hip

Hip injuries and degenerative conditions become more common with age. Do to the nature of the joint, it’s not quite as easy to injure as a knee, but it can take a beating and pain often develops over time. Whether a hip condition is acute or degenerative, regenerative procedures can help reduce pain and may help heal injured tissue, without the complications of invasive surgical hip procedures.

  • Labral Tear
  • Hip Arthritis
  • Hip Bursitis
  • Hip Sprain, Tendonitis or Inflammation
  • Hip Instability
Learn More
Foot & Ankle

Foot & Ankle

Foot and ankle injuries are common in athletes. These injuries can often benefit from non-surgical regenerative treatments. Before considering surgery, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.
  • Ankle Arthritis
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Ligament sprains or tears
  • Other conditions that cause pain
Learn More

Is Regenexx Right For You?

Request a free Regenexx Info Packet

REGENEXX WEBINARS

Learn about the #1 Stem Cell & Platelet Procedures for treating arthritis, common joint injuries & spine pain.

Join a Webinar

RECEIVE BLOG ARTICLES BY EMAIL

Get fresh updates and insights from Regenexx delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to the Blog

FOLLOW US

Copyright © Regenexx 2019. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy

*DISCLAIMER: Like all medical procedures, Regenexx® Procedures have a success and failure rate. Patient reviews and testimonials on this site should not be interpreted as a statement on the effectiveness of our treatments for anyone else.

Providers listed on the Regenexx website are for informational purposes only and are not a recommendation from Regenexx for a specific provider or a guarantee of the outcome of any treatment you receive.