Rotator Cuff Tear Repair – Frequently Asked Questions
Each year, millions of people experience shoulder pain and seek help from a doctor. While most issues can be treated with rest and physical therapy, others are more severe rotator cuff injuries.
Rotator cuff injuries can occur from sporting activities such as swimming, softball, baseball, tennis, golf, and weight training, or can simply develop over time due to rotator cuff degeneration.
Dr. Brandon Steen, orthopaedic surgeon and shoulder specialist, reviews frequently asked questions about rotator cuff tears, when you should see a doctor and arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
What is a rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that come together as a large tendon and connect your humerus bone to the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff helps to lift and rotate the arm and to stabilize the ball of the shoulder within the joint.
What causes a rotator cuff tear?
A rotator cuff tear may result from an acute injury, such as a fall or lifting something too heavy, or may be caused by normal age-related wear and tear of the tendon.
When should I see a doctor?
Typically, you will feel pain in the front or side of your shoulder that radiates down the side of your arm. It may be present with overhead activities such as lifting or reaching.
You may feel pain when you try to sleep on the affected side. You may note weakness of your arm and difficulty with routine activities such as combing your hair or reaching behind your back.
If you have injured your shoulder or have chronic shoulder and arm pain, it is best to see your orthopaedic surgeon. Early diagnosis and treatment of a rotator cuff tear may prevent symptoms such as loss of strength and loss of motion from setting in.
Is rotator cuff surgery necessary?
Many rotator cuff tears can be treated without surgery. Anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections, and physical therapy can help treat symptoms of a cuff tear. The goals of treatment are to relieve pain and restore strength to the involved shoulder.
If, however, you are active and use your arm for overhead work or sports, then surgery is most often recommended because many tears will not heal without surgery.
Which rotator cuff surgery is the best?
Rotator cuff repair is surgery to repair a torn tendon in the shoulder.
Rotator cuff tears can be repaired using open or arthroscopic techniques. Arthroscopic techniques have largely replaced open repair as there is less damage to the deltoid muscle and the risk of infection is less.
Arthroscopic repair also allows surgeons to address other problems during the same surgery since there is greater access to the rest of the shoulder complex.
The type of surgery chosen depends on the size of the tear, your anatomy and the condition of your tendons, tissues, and bones.
An orthopaedic surgeon will discuss with you the best procedure to meet your individual health needs.
In certain instances, the tear may not be repairable. Your surgeon may recommend a reverse shoulder replacement to best handle this problem.
How important is rehab in the treatment of a rotator cuff tear?
Rehabilitation plays a critical role in both the nonsurgical and surgical treatment of a rotator cuff tear.
When a tear occurs, there may be weakening of the muscles around the arm and loss of motion of the shoulder. A physical therapy program is necessary to regain strength and improve function in the shoulder.
Complete rehabilitation after surgery may take several months.