What is a rotator cuff repair?

A rotator cuff repair is usually done to treat a tear in the rotator cuff, and is often arthroscopic, done through about three or four poke holes about the size of a pinkie nail. It generally takes about a half hour to forty minutes to do. Most people who have a rotator cuff injury have some sort of bony spur where the rotator cuff tear is. This tends to lead to the recurrence of injury if it is not addressed. In the surgery the bone spur is removed, and the tissue is evaluated to see if it is a partial tear or full tear, and what needs to be done.

Full thickness rotator cuff repairs used to have a six-month recovery. Now biologic agents are added to rotator cuff repairs, which can cut the healing time in half.

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Rotator cuff repair is a surgical procedure to repair a torn tendon in the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that cover the shoulder joint, stabilizing the joint and helping to ensure a normal range of motion in the joint. Rotator cuff surgery is usually performed while you are under general anesthesia and may require one large open incision or, if the surgery is shoulder arthroscopy, several small incisions. Depending on the type of injury or tear, rotator cuff surgery may involve reattaching the tendon to the upper arm bone, smoothing a partial tear, or for complete tendon tears, stitching the two sides of the tendon back together.

There are several common causes for rotator cuff injuries, including aging and the wear and tear associated with it, playing sports or doing jobs that require repeated overhead arm movements or falling in an awkward position onto the shoulder joint. In many cases, doctors suggest other treatments before recommending surgery. These nonsurgical approaches to rotator cuff injuries may include:

  • resting the shoulder area
  • applying heat or cold as needed to the shoulder area
  • doing specific targeted exercises for the shoulder
  • electrical stimulation of the muscles and nerves in the shoulder
  • ultrasound
  • injection of cortisone
  • pain medicines

Rotator cuff surgery may be recommended if none of these approaches relieve pain and restore normal movement back to the shoulder, or if:

  • Your symptoms have lasted six to 12 months.
  • You have a large tear (more than 3 centimeters).
  • You have significant weakness and loss of function in your shoulder (especially if it affects your ability to do your job).
  • Your tear was caused by a recent, acute injury.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.