Navigating Rotator Cuff Surgery

Rotator cuff injuries are a prevalent health problem, affecting millions of people worldwide. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, nearly two million Americans seek medical attention for rotator cuff tears and related shoulder issues each year.

Rotator cuff injuries generally affect older individuals, with over 80% of adults older than 80 diagnosed with rotator cuff tears — though they can happen to anyone. This type of injury can significantly impact one’s daily life. When conservative treatments like physical therapy or medication fail to provide relief for rotator cuff injuries, orthopedic surgeons often recommend rotator cuff surgery.

What Is Rotator Cuff Surgery?

Rotator cuff surgery is a common medical procedure performed to repair the torn tendons of the rotator cuff — a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and help enable movement.

The goal of rotator cuff surgery is to restore the function and movement of the shoulder and alleviate pain. The surgery is typically recommended for individuals with completely torn tendons and other severe rotator cuff injuries.

There are two primary kinds of rotator cuff surgery procedures:

Subacromial Smoothing

This procedure removes inflamed or scar tissue and bone spurs from the area located beneath the highest part of the shoulder. This procedure is typically performed on patients diagnosed with orthopedic conditions like subacromial bursitis or shoulder impingement.

Rotator Cuff Repair

This procedure involves stitching the torn rotator cuff tendon back onto its original location on the upper arm bone. Rotator cuff repair surgeries may be:

  • Open surgery with a large incision
  • “Mini-open” surgery with a smaller incision and some arthroscopic assistance
  • Fully arthroscopic surgery using only small incisions

When Do You Need Rotator Cuff Surgery?

Rotator cuff surgery becomes necessary when non-surgical methods like physical therapy, rest, and medication are unsuccessful in alleviating severe shoulder pain or restoring range of arm motion after a rotator cuff injury.

Below are several signs you may need surgery:

  • Persistent or chronic shoulder pain
  • Difficulty raising your arm or performing routine activities
  • Weakness in the shoulder
  • Difficulty lifting objects
  • Shoulder “popping” in and out or making clicking and catching sounds

The expert orthopaedic physicians at OrthoUnited can work with you to determine when and how to address your rotator cuff injury and restore your pain-free range of motion.

What To Expect on Surgery Day

Rotator cuff repair surgery is typically an outpatient procedure best performed at a dedicated orthopedic surgical center. On average, rotator cuff surgery typically takes one to two hours to complete, depending on the complexity of the repair.

Below is a brief overview of the surgical process:

  • Preparation: Before the surgery, your orthopedic team will provide specific guidelines on fasting and medications to ensure a smooth procedure.
  • Anesthesia: Most rotator cuff surgeries are performed under general anesthesia, ensuring people remain pain-free and unconscious throughout the procedure. In some cases, local or regional anesthesia may also be used to numb the shoulder and arm area.
  • Procedure: The surgeon will make an incision in your shoulder to access the torn tendon. The type and size of the incision will depend on whether the surgery is open, mini-open, or fully arthroscopic. The torn tendon will be sewn back onto its original place on the arm bone using sutures.
  • Completion: Once the repair is done, the surgeon will close the incision and cover it with a bandage. You will then be taken to the recovery room.

What To Expect With Recovery

Rotator cuff surgery recovery duration varies from person to person, depending on the severity of the injury and the type of surgery performed. However, most patients can start performing light activities with their arm within three to four weeks after surgery.

During your rotator cuff surgery recovery period, you can expect:

  • Spending one to two hours in the recovery room under observation.
  • Using an immobilizer or sling to keep the shoulder stable and help the healing process, to be worn for around four to six weeks post-surgery.
  • Taking pain relievers and using ice packs to help manage discomfort and reduce swelling.
  • Undergoing physical therapy to help restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the shoulder joint.

It’s crucial to ease back into your regular activities, avoiding overexertion that could compromise the healing process. Regular follow-up appointments with your orthopedic team allow them to monitor your progress and address any concerns promptly.

Trust OrthoUnited With Your Orthopedic Surgery and Recovery

Navigating rotator cuff surgery can be challenging, but with the right information and support, you can approach it confidently.

If you’re considering rotator cuff surgery, OrthoUnited’s team of orthopedic specialists is here to help. Meet our shoulder specialists and get to know the team who will guide you through surgery and recovery.

Contact us today to request an appointment.