Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

If I Get Rotator Cuff Repair Surgery Will I Ever Rock Climb as Well as I Used To?

October 9, 2020

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that coordinate movement and provide dynamic stability of the shoulder joint. These muscles are crucial for rock climbers who put extreme stresses through their shoulders, often in awkward positions that can cause bone structures to rub or impinge on the rotator cuff muscles. Because of this, rotator cuff health is essential for rock climbers to continue to perform their sport at a high level.

The most commonly torn rotator cuff muscle is the supraspinatus. The majority of tears to the rotator cuff can be rehabilitated conservatively which involves physical therapy to promote healing and improve tissue tolerance. In the event of a large tear the supraspinatus can be surgically repaired. In this surgery the tendon of the supraspinatus is anchored to the humerus bone to allow the structures to heal. Rehabilitation from rotator cuff repair surgery requires extensive physical therapy and several month time frame for the tissue to completely heal. Because of the rigorous requirements of the rotator cuff in rock climbing, it is crucial to slowly and progressively return to the sport to avoid reinjury. But if you get rotator cuff repair surgery, will you return to the same level of climbing as before the surgery.

Simon and colleagues developed a study to track the ability of rock climbers to return to their sport following rotator cuff repair surgery. They asked climbers the level of difficulty they had achieved (after an average of 27 months following surgery) and also looked at other indicators of rehabilitation success. They found that every participant had return to climbing, 58% had returned to within 2 grades of their previous level, 34% had returned to their same level, and 8% had exceeded their previous level of climbing. They also found no rotator cuff atrophy, no neurological deficits, and not loss of range of motion among the climbers.

These results indicate that it is difficult to achieve a full return to previous levels of rock climbing but many climbers accomplish this goal. If you are a rock climber who believes you have a rotator cuff tear then schedule an appointment with a physical therapist at Mend. You can also find self-guided home exercise programs specifically for rock climbers here.