About half of all patients with rotator cuff tears find relief of symptoms without shoulder surgery, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Doctors typically recommend surgery when other methods do not alleviate pain sufficiently.
Doctors also consider surgery when patients use their arms extensively for work or sports, explains AAOS. Other reasons for surgical intervention include pain for at least six months, a tear larger than 3 millimeters, loss of shoulder function and acute injury. Nonsurgical treatment involves rest of the affected area, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and swelling, exercises and physical therapy. If these are ineffective, patients sometimes receive steroid injections.