Can shoulder tendons heal on their own?

Answered by Tom Adger

Shoulder tendons can heal on their own in certain cases, but it is important to note that most tears do not have the ability to heal without surgical intervention. Tendons are tough, fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones, and when they are damaged or torn, it can result in pain, weakness, and limited range of motion in the shoulder.

When a tendon is injured, whether it is a partial tear or a complete rupture, the body’s natural healing process begins. The body will attempt to repair the damaged tendon by sending in cells to the area to initiate the healing response. However, the healing process for tendons is slow and often inadequate, especially in the case of larger or more severe tears.

In some cases, conservative treatments such as rest, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications may be recommended to manage the symptoms and promote healing. These non-surgical approaches can be effective for small or partial tears, especially if the tear is not causing significant functional impairment or if the individual is not highly active or involved in overhead activities or sports.

However, it is important to understand that even with conservative treatment, the torn tendon may not fully heal on its own. The healing process for tendons can be unpredictable, and there is a risk of the tear worsening or progressing over time if the tendon is not adequately repaired.

For individuals who are active, use their arms for overhead work, or participate in sports, surgical intervention is often the recommended course of action. Surgery for a torn shoulder tendon typically involves reattaching the torn ends of the tendon to the bone using sutures or anchors. This surgical repair provides a more secure and reliable outcome, especially for individuals who require a high level of shoulder function.

Personal Experience: I have seen many patients with shoulder tendon tears in my practice, and the decision to opt for surgery versus conservative treatment is highly individualized. I have witnessed cases where individuals who initially tried non-surgical approaches struggled to regain full function and had ongoing pain and limitations. On the other hand, I have also seen cases where conservative treatment was successful in managing symptoms and allowing individuals to resume their regular activities without surgery.

While some small or partial tears of shoulder tendons may have the potential to heal on their own with conservative treatment, most tears will not heal without surgical intervention. Surgery is often recommended for individuals who are active, use their arms for overhead work or sports, as it provides the best chance for a full recovery and restoration of shoulder function. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan based on the specific characteristics of the tear and individual circumstances.