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Rotator cuff tears are as common as they are frustrating. In fact, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), approximately two million people in the U.S .seek medical attention for a rotator cuff issue every year.

If you experience pain, weakness, or crackling when trying to move your arm. And, if pain and discomfort seem to worsen at night or when your shoulder is at rest, you likely have a torn rotator cuff. If you have had these symptoms for a while and they have not responded to conservative treatment methods, torn rotator cuff surgery may be recommended to encourage full and healthy recovery.

While the prospect of shoulder surgery—or any kind of surgery—can sometimes feel intimidating, our EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons are recognized for their unparalleled skills and expertise. Our Shoulder Team routinely performs advanced and minimally-invasive surgical approaches for favorable outcomes. And, research demonstrates positive outcomes for the majority of repairs for rotator cuff injuries.

If you are in need of surgery for a torn rotator cuff, you could not be in better hands.

When Rotator Cuff Surgical Repair is Needed

Some rotator cuff tears respond well to nonsurgical treatments such as rest, activity modification, and medication. If, however, symptoms persist or tendon tears are severe, surgical repair is likely needed.

You may be a candidate for rotator cuff surgery if:

  • Your pain, discomfort, and other symptoms have continued for 6-12 weeks
  • Your rotator cuff tear is diagnosed as being full thickness (and the tissue surrounding the injury is healthy)
  • You have been experiencing significant shoulder weakness and loss of mobility
  • Your rotator cuff tendon occurred from an acute and recent injury

Rotator Cuff Surgery Purpose and Procedure

The purpose of rotator cuff surgery is to repair the damaged rotator cuff. Most often, this means the tendon needs to be reattached to the upper arm bone (humerus). If you have experienced a “partial tear,” your surgeon may only need to perform a “debridement.” This involves removing any loose fragments of the tendon, damaged bursa, or other debris from the shoulder joint (and surrounding area).

The most common rotator cuff repair surgical techniques include:

  • Open Repair

As a more traditional way to repair the damaged rotator cuff tendon, your surgeon detaches the deltoid muscle through an incision. This enables the removal of any bone spurs that may be under the acromion (referred to as acromioplasty). If needed, your surgeon will also perform additional reconstruction of the rotator cuff (such as a tendon transfer).

Put the Shoulder arthroscopy section first-almost no-one does open repair anymore.

Arthroscopic shoulder repair is a minimally-invasive approach that results in minimal scarring and can typically be done as an outpatient procedure. The repair is performed utilizing a small camera (arthroscope). Your surgeon uses the camera—through a small incision—to help guide tiny instrumentation to repair the damaged torn rotator cuff. Arthroscopy can also be used to remove bone spurs.

 Male orthopedic doctor evaluates a male patient for torn rotator cuff surgery with female physician's assistant in background.

Are There Risks Involved with Rotator Cuff Surgery?

As with many surgeries, there are some risk factors involved with rotator cuff surgery, which include:

  • Problems with anesthesia
  • Issues with infection
  • Complications with shoulder range of motion (such as permanent stiffness)
  • Recovery time that lasts longer
Rotator Cuff Repair Recovery

As we briefly mentioned, outcomes from rotator cuff repair surgery are typically positive. Many people experience restored mobility, improved strength, and relief from pain. With that said, it is crucial to follow the post-surgical guidelines of your surgeon to ensure a safe and effective recovery.

Following your surgery, your recovery instructions will include:

Typically, a short-term pain relief medication is prescribed. Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for example, are helpful in reducing pain and inflammation.

  • Immobilization

To help protect your shoulder you will likely be given a sling. This will prevent your arm from moving and help promote healing. Your surgeon will advise that you avoid arm movement for between four to six weeks.

  • Rehabilitation

You will be provided with a physical therapy program designed to help strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder and increase your range of motion. Your rehabilitative protocol will be gradual, beginning with “passive exercise” in which your physical therapist helps you perform specialized stretches and rotator cuff surgery exercises. Four to six weeks after surgery, you will start practicing “active exercise” on your own. At the 8-12 week mark, you can begin strengthening exercises independently.

It is important to realize that much of the intense rehab and recovery can take upwards of four to six months and maximum recovery takes place over the first 12-18 months. Provided you follow the instructions of your physician and rehabilitation program, you will likely be able to resume activity, including (certain) sports after full recovery.

To learn more about rotator cuff surgery or how to alleviate shoulder pain, schedule an appointment now. Or, call us any time at 984.666.2201.

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