It's believed that millions of Americans over 60, as well as tons of athletes, suffer from a torn rotator cuff. Now, there's a new surgery-free alternative to repairing one.

Just opening a cupboard or grabbing a plate was excruciating for Kay Subhawong. 

“I couldn’t lift this right arm to take plates out of the cupboard," she explained.  

Her problem: a torn rotator cuff. The small muscles that hold the shoulder joint together have ripped apart. 

"That type of rotator cuff tear occurs with aging just like getting wrinkles or gray hair," said Dr. John Kuhn, chief of shoulder surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

Subhawong thought her only option was surgery.

"It usually takes people about four months before they can even think to get back to any kind of labor type work and it usually takes a year to get a full recovery," said Kuhn, who convinced Subhawong to skip surgery and do certain exercises instead.

Kuhn is also a director of the Moon Shoulder Group, a network of doctors researching the best options for bad shoulders.

“We found the exercises programs that were found to be effective at treating rotator cuff disease and consolidated them into one physical therapy program," said Kuhn.

The program focuses on range of motion, flexibility, and strengthening. 

"We do not expect the therapy program to make someone’s tendon heal, but it does take their pain away," said Kuhn.

"You know, my arm doesn’t really hurt,” Subhawong said after 12 weeks.

A new study found the exercise program helped 85 percent of participants avoid surgery. Kuhn said the effects last for up to five years.

Subhawong is an example of that. She finished the program about five years ago and said she hasn't had any trouble since.

The entire shoulder program is available for free online. Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting it.

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