Rotator cuff repair is a type of surgery to repair a torn tendon in the shoulder. The procedure can be done with a large (open) incision or with shoulder arthroscopy, which uses small buttonhole-sized incisions.
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that form a cuff over the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons hold the arm in its joint and help the shoulder joint to move. The tendons can be torn from overuse or injury.
You will likely receive general anesthesia before this surgery. This means you will be asleep and unable to feel pain. Or, you may have regional anesthesia. Your arm and shoulder area will be numbed so that you do not feel any pain. If you receive regional anesthesia, you will also be given medicine to make you very sleepy during the operation.
Three common techniques are used to repair a rotator cuff tear:
At the end of the surgery, the incisions are closed, and a dressing is applied. If arthroscopy was performed, most surgeons take pictures of the procedure from the video monitor to show you what they found and the repairs that were made.
Reasons rotator cuff repair may be done include:
Surgery is a good choice when:
A partial tear may not require surgery. Instead, rest and exercise are used to heal the shoulder. This approach is often best for persons who do not place a lot of demand on their shoulder. Pain can be expected to improve. Weakness will not improve. The tear will likely become larger over time. You may be limited in the sports or other activities you can do.
Risks of anesthesia are:
Risks rotator cuff surgery are:
Tell your health care provider what medicines you are taking. This includes medicines, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription.
During the 2 weeks before your surgery:
On the day of surgery:
You will be wearing a sling when you leave the hospital. Some patients also wear a shoulder immobilizer. This keeps your shoulder from moving. How long you wear the sling or immobilizer will depend on the type of surgery you had.
Recovery can take 3 to 6 months, depending on the size of the tear and other factors. You may have to wear a sling for 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. Pain is usually managed with medicines.
Physical therapy can help you regain the motion and strength of your shoulder. The length of therapy will depend on the repair that was done.
Surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff is usually successful in relieving pain in the shoulder. The procedure may not always return strength to the shoulder. Rotator cuff repair can require a long recovery period, especially if the tear was large.
When you can return to work or play sports depends on the surgery that was done. Expect several months to resume your regular activities.
Some rotator cuff tears may not fully heal. Stiffness, weakness, and chronic pain may still be present.
These poorer results are more likely when the following are present:
Gartsman GM. Shoulder Arthroscopy. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2008.
Miller RH III, Asar FM, Throckmorton TW. Shoulder and elbow injuries. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 46.
Warren RF, ed. Shoulder arthroscopy. In: Rockwood CA, Matsen FA III, Wirth MA, et al., eds. The Shoulder. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 20.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial Team.
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