I treat a lot of tennis players with shoulder pain, usually from rotator cuff issues as a result of repetitive stress from overhead motions and overuse. My goal is always to get them back on the court quickly without drugs, injections or surgery if possible.
Conventional treatment of rotator cuff injuries typically call for powerful prescription anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. These drugs are risky for a lot of reasons, including digestive upsets and the chance of addiction or misuse. If the tear is extensive, surgery might be necessary.
But clients with cuff tears have typically done their homework. They’ve learned that cortisone shots into the area may risk making the problem worse. They’ve also learned that after shoulder surgery, the shoulder is sometimes never the same. Patients want to return to full activity and stay with their sport and many times they request non-drug, non-surgical treatment.
Treating the rotator cuff
Most rotator cuff tears don’t fully heal on their own, which could mean months of pain, with your clients sitting on the sidelines. To support a healthy healing process, the first weapon in my arsenal of non-drug techniques is nutritional supplements, to support a healthy inflammation response to the injury. Pain and swelling—inflammation—are your body’s normal response to any injury. That’s a good thing, but only up to a point. Too much inflammation for too long can actually damage the tendons, leaving you with long-term loss of strength and mobility in the shoulder and a greater likelihood of re-injury.
The right nutritional supplements can be useful for helping to manage inflammation and pain. For the acute phase—the first 72 hours when the injury is usually most painful—I recommend:
1 – Proteolytic enzymes, including trypsin, chymotrypsin and bromelain. Proteolytic enzymes are a natural way to reduce swelling. They’re very effective and don’t typically upset your stomach.
2 – Natural anti-inflammatories, including Boswellia, turmeric, ginger and vitamin C. These nutrients bring help to manage pain and swelling. They work well without causing digestive problems in most cases.
3 – Nutrients to relax muscle tissue, including calcium, magnesium, lemon balm and valerian. To protect the damaged area, the muscles around it contract, causing additional pain. These supplements relax them without making you groggy.
After four days, these supplements have tend to help with the support management of pain and swelling in many cases.
For many clients, the difference between a rotator cuff tear that heals well and one that doesn’t is a supplement containing THIAA (tetrahydro iso-alpha acids) and berberine. These natural substances give your body the underlying materials it needs to build healing enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). Boosting your MMPs production is very helpful for speeding up the way your body rebuilds and remodels damaged tissues. I have my patients start taking this supplement on the fourth day after the injury and continue for another eight weeks. During this time, I also recommend 2,000 IU of Vitamin D every day. Many people are low on Vitamin D, which is vital for normal healing.
Once the injury is healed, we want to retain that restored tissue integrity to prevent re-injury. Going forward, I have my patients take a high-quality daily multivitamin with minerals formula, a phytonutrient formula, and fish oil to maintain their gains.