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Surgery may be used to treat a torn rotator cuff if the injury is very severe or if non-surgical treatment has failed to improve shoulder strength and movement sufficiently.
Surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff tendon usually involves:
Arthroscopic surgery is the most common way that this surgery is done. But in some cases, the surgeon needs to do open-shoulder surgery, which requires a larger incision.
Discomfort after surgery may decrease with taking pain medicines prescribed by your doctor.
Your arm will be protected in a sling for a defined period of time.
Physiotherapy after surgery is crucial to a successful recovery. A rehabilitation program may include the following:
Surgery to repair a rotator cuff is done when:
Rotator cuff repair surgery for a tear from a sudden injury works best if it is done within a few weeks of the injury.footnote 1 But repairs of very large tears are not always successful.
Rotator cuff surgery to repair frayed or thinned tendon tissue is less likely to work than surgery to repair an injury to a healthy tendon.
In addition to the risks of surgery in general, such as blood loss or problems related to anesthesia, complications of rotator cuff surgery may include:
Very large tears [greater than 5 cm (2 in.) or involving more than one rotator cuff tendon] often cannot be repaired by this type of surgery. Grafting and patching procedures are possible. But they are not much better at restoring strength than debridement and smoothing, which are less risky and require less rehabilitation.
Less active people (usually those older than 60) with confirmed rotator cuff tears that do not cause pain, significant weakness, or sleep problems can safely go without surgery unless symptoms get worse.
CitationsAmerican Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Rotator cuff tears. In JF Sarwark, ed., Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed., pp. 311–316. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.Other Works ConsultedBeasley Vidal LS, et al. (2007). Shoulder injuries. In PJ McMahon, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Sports Medicine, pp. 118–145. New York: McGraw-Hill.Lin KC, et al. (2010). Rotator cuff: 1. Impingement lesions in adult and adolescent athletes. In JC DeLee et al., eds., DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine, Principles and Practice, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 986–1015. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Current as of: September 20, 2018
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Brian O'Brien, MD, FRCPC - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Timothy Bhattacharyya, MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma & Kenneth J. Koval, MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma
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