Rotator cuff surgery

What is rotator cuff surgery?

The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles that keeps the upper arm bone (humerus) in the socket of the shoulder blade. Sometimes the rotator cuff can be torn which causes pain, limited motion and weakness. If the tear is particularly bad or non-surgical methods have failed to repair the rotator cuff, then surgery will be recommended.

Why would you need rotator cuff surgery?

Surgery is required if non-surgical methods have failed, or if the tear is very bad. Rotator cuff tears can be partial (just some of the tendon fibres are torn) or full (the tendon is completely torn). The rotator cuff can be torn when playing sports, such as tennis or cricket, or through physical activities, or through general wear and tear over time. Traumatic injury can also tear your rotator cuff as well.

What does rotator cuff surgery involve?

Rotator cuff surgery involves:

  • Fragments of tendon and other debris are removed from the shoulder joint.
  • Sometimes bone needs to be shaved down to allow for more room for the rotator cuff to move around without being pinched.
  • The torn tendon is sewn together and to the top of the humerus.

Surgery can be performed either:

  • By arthroscopy where an arthroscope is inserted through a small incision through which the surgery is performed using a video monitor.
  • By open surgery, for more complicated tears. A larger incision is made and the muscle is carefully moved to the side to allow for the repair to be made.

How to prepare for rotator cuff surgery

In the weeks running up to surgery, certain medications will have to be stopped. It is also important to prepare your house so that everything you need during recovery is easily accessible (not on high shelves). On the day of surgery, eating and drinking will have to be stopped, on instruction from your surgeon and care team.

Post-operative care

Pain following surgery will be managed with rest and painkillers. You will wear a sling following surgery as well. Throughout recovery you will need to have physical therapy to ensure the rotator cuff heals properly. Movement exercises can begin as soon as a couple of days following surgery. After 6-8 weeks following surgery, active exercise with shoulder movement can be performed, depending on how bad the rotator cuff tear was. You can expect to return to regular activities after several months.