FAQs About Rotator Cuff Surgery

Rotator cuff injuries are some of the most common acute shoulder injuries. The tendon that connects the humerus to your scapula disconnects from the humerus, either partially or fully. Most rotator cuff injuries do not heal on their own, so you will have to undergo surgery in order to have the tendon repaired. Here are some questions you're likely to have before that procedure.

Will You Have an Open or Arthroscopic Surgery?

An open surgery is one where the surgeon makes a large incision to fully expose the area to be worked on. This is how rotator cuff surgeries were done until about 20 years ago. Now, most orthopedic surgeons prefer to work on rotator cuffs arthroscopically. What this means is that they will only make two or three small incisions in the skin that encases your shoulder. They will insert cameras and other operating tools through those incisions and repair the tendon. Arthroscopic surgery is a lot easier to heal from because the incisions are so much smaller, and it also comes with a lower risk of infection.

How Will Your Surgeon Fix the Tendon?

Once the incisions are made and the tools are inserted into your shoulder, your orthopedic surgeon will likely use rivets to reattach the torn tendon to the bone. These rivets look similar to the metal rivets used to hold ships and other metal structures together. The tendon is attached to the rivets via special sutures that dissolve over time as the tendon re-anchors itself to the bone. You will not have to have the rivets removed. If the tendon is torn in addition to being detached from the humerus, your surgeon will also stitch the torn tendon back together.

How Painful Will Recovery Be?

Most patients experience moderate discomfort when recovering from rotator cuff surgery. The first couple of days will be the worst, but icing your shoulder and taking the pain relievers prescribed by your doctor will make things better. In the weeks that follow, the pain will subside, and you can slowly start taking fewer pain relievers. Your physical therapist will work with you to restore your range of motion. While physical therapy may be uncomfortable at first, it is necessary for a full recovery.

If you have any remaining questions about your rotator cuff surgery, feel free to ask your orthopedic surgeon. Most are happy to talk with their patients about what's to come.

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