Orthopedic Surgery, Shoulder Surgery

October 10, 2022

Does a Torn Rotator Cuff Need Surgery?


While surgery is sometimes the only option for a torn rotator cuff, it may not be the right choice for everyone. Find out if surgery might be best in your situation.

What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and tendons that attach the upper arm to the shoulder. A rotator cuff tear usually occurs when someone falls on an outstretched hand or arm. The injury causes some of these muscles to pull away from their normal attachment to the bone.

Rotator cuff tears can be classified as either partial or complete tears. A partial tear may not require surgery if it is small, hasn’t caused significant pain or weakness, and you aren’t experiencing any other joint problems. A complete tear, on the other hand, often needs to be surgically repaired. It’s important to see your doctor to get a proper diagnosis for your shoulder pain.

Treatment Options for Rotator Cuff Tears

Treatment options for a torn rotator cuff depend on the severity of the tear and its symptoms. If your rotator cuff is only partially torn, you can try non-surgical treatments for six months to see if things improve. Physical therapy, rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication may help with pain and stiffness.

Surgery for a torn rotator cuff may be necessary if you have significant pain or weakness in your arm after 6 months of non-operative treatment or if you’ve experienced a complete tear.

How Do I Know if My Torn Rotator Cuff Needs Surgery?

Surgery is usually the next step for a rotator cuff injury if:

  • There are no signs of improvement after 6 to 12 months
  • Your shoulder strength has weakened, and it’s still painful to move
  • The tear is larger than 3 centimeters long in an otherwise healthy tendon

Surgical Options for Rotator Cuff Tears

Techniques used for repairing the rotator cuff include:

  • Arthroscopy. In an arthroscopic surgery, an orthopedic surgeon uses a small tube with a camera to look inside the joint. The surgeon then inserts instruments through small incisions around the joint’s edge and repairs the tendon tear using tiny stitches or other surgical devices.
  • Open surgery. In an open surgery, an orthopedic surgeon makes a long cut in the shoulder area to gain access to the joint. Using large-diameter instruments, the surgeon removes damaged tissue and performs reconstruction of any torn tendon with sutures.
  • A combination of these. A surgeon may combine arthroscopic techniques with open surgery techniques to repair the rotator cuff.

These surgeries are typically successful, but recovery times can be lengthy, requiring 6 months or more after treatment.

Recovering from Rotator Cuff Surgery

The length of your recovery after shoulder surgery will depend on the extent of your injury and the technique used by your surgeon. Patients usually return to work in about 1 to 2 months after arthroscopic surgery. Patients who underwent open surgery due to more severe injuries may not fully heal for 6 months.

Are You Living with Shoulder Pain?

The symptoms of a torn rotator cuff include a popping sound and persistent pain in the shoulder. If you believe you have a torn rotator cuff, request an appointment online or call (501) 748-8000 to schedule an appointment with one of Arkansas Surgical Hospital’s orthopedic surgeons. They can answer your questions, discuss your options, and determine if your torn rotator cuff needs surgery.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

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