Rotator Cuff Surgery

Continued pain is the main indication for surgery. If you are very active and use your arms for overhead work or sports, your Wisconsin Bone & Joint surgeon may suggest surgery.

Other signs that surgery may be a good option for you include:

  • Your symptoms last 6 to 12 months
  • Your tear is large (more than 3 cm)
  • You have weakness and loss of function in your shoulder
  • Your tear was caused by an acute injury

Surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff most often involves re-attaching the tendon to the head of humerus (upper arm bone). A partial tear, however, may only require a “trimming” or “smoothing” procedure called a debridement. A complete tear within the thickest part of the tendon is repaired by stitching the two sides back together.

When Rotator Cuff Surgery is Recommended

Your WBJ orthopedic surgeon may recommend surgery for a torn rotator cuff if your pain does not improve with nonsurgical methods. Continued pain is the main indication for surgery. If you are very active and use your arms for overhead work or sports, your doctor may also suggest surgery.

Other signs that surgery may be a good option for you include:

  • Your symptoms have lasted 6 to 12 months
  • You have a large tear (more than 3 cm)
  • You have significant weakness or loss of function in your shoulder
  • Your tear was caused by a recent injury

Surgical Repair Options

A rotator cuff tear most often occurs where the tendon attaches to the bone.

There are a few options for repairing rotator cuff tears.

Advancements in surgical techniques for rotator cuff repair include less invasive procedures. While each of the methods available has its own advantages and disadvantages, all have the same goal: getting the tendon back to healing.

Many surgical repairs can be done on an outpatient basis and do not require you to stay overnight in the hospital. Your orthopaedic surgeon will discuss with you the best procedure to meet your individual health needs.

You may have other shoulder issues in addition to a rotator cuff tear, such as osteoarthritis, bone spurs, or other soft tissue tears. During the operation, your surgeon may be able to take care of these issues, as well.

The three techniques most commonly used for rotator cuff repair include traditional open repair, arthroscopic repair, and mini-open repair. In the end, patients rate all three repair methods the same for pain relief, strength improvement, and overall satisfaction.

Open Repair
A traditional open surgical incision (several centimeters long) is often required if the tear is large or complex. The surgeon makes the incision over the shoulder and detaches the shoulder muscle (deltoid) to better see and gain access to the torn tendon.

During an open repair, the surgeon typically removes bone spurs from the underside of the acromion (this procedure is called an acromioplasty). An open repair may be a good option if the tear is large or complex or if additional reconstruction, such as a tendon transfer, is indicated.

Open repair was the first technique used for torn rotator cuffs. Over the years, new technology and improved surgeon experience has led to less invasive procedures.

All-Arthroscopic Repair
During arthroscopy, your surgeon inserts a small camera, called an arthroscope, into your shoulder joint. The camera displays pictures on a television screen, and your surgeon uses these images to guide miniature surgical instruments.

Because the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, your surgeon can use very small incisions (cuts), rather than the larger incision needed for standard, open surgery.

All-arthroscopic repair is usually an outpatient procedure and is the least invasive method to repair a torn rotator cuff.

Mini-Open Repair

The mini-open repair uses newer technology and instruments to perform a repair through a small incision. The incision is typically 3 to 5 cm long.

This technique uses arthroscopy to assess and treat damage to other structures within the joint. Bone spurs, for example, are often removed arthroscopically. This avoids the need to detach the deltoid muscle.

Once the arthroscopic portion of the procedure is completed, the surgeon repairs the rotator cuff through the mini-open incision. During the tendon repair, the surgeon views the shoulder structures directly, rather than through the video monitor.

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