What is the rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and tendons that stretch from the shoulder blade (scapula) to the upper arm bone (humerus). They move and stabilize the shoulder as it travels through various ranges of motion.
The rotator cuff performs two main functions:
- It starts the shoulder’s movement when the arm is moved away from the body
- It pulls the upper arm bone and shoulder blade together, keeping them in close contact as the shoulder moves
The most commonly injured rotator cuff muscle is the supraspinatus. This is in part because this muscle’s tendon passes through a very narrow space between the top of the upper arm bone and the underside of the shoulder’s top (acromion).
Learn more about shoulder anatomy.
How is it injured?
As we age, the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff become less pliable and elastic, making them more likely to tear. Activities once performed without issue may now result in pain, inflammation, and potential tearing. People below the age of 40 can also injure their rotator cuff muscles, but this is more commonly associated with an acute injury or frequent overhead use of the arms.
Learn more about rotator cuff injuries.
What types of rotator cuff surgery are there?
If nonsurgical options fail to provide relief or if your rotator cuff tear is too substantial, your orthopedic specialist may recommend surgery. There are several different techniques to repair a torn rotator cuff. The decision of which technique is appropriate depends on the shape, location, and severity of the tear.
Shoulder arthroscopy is the least invasive surgical option. It involves three small incisions in the front, side, and back of the shoulder. The tear is visualized and repaired using a tiny camera, and tools passed through the incisions.
Open rotator cuff repair
Open repair is done through an incision one to two inches long made over the area of the torn muscle. This gives your specialist direct access to the tear through which the damaged tissues can be repaired.
Once you decide on surgery, your orthopedic specialist will discuss the type of repair most appropriate for your injury.
How long is recovery from rotator cuff surgery?
After surgery, the shoulder and arm will be immobilized in a sling for up to six weeks. This is necessary so that the repaired tissues have time to heal. Many patients are able to leave the hospital the same day as surgery. However, if your health is complicated by other factors, your doctor may want you to remain overnight for observation. This decision is made on an individual basis with your specialist.
Following surgery, you will be given instructions regarding care of your bandages and use of the sling.
- You need to wear the sling full time during this period, unless instructed differently by your specialist.
- After your first post-op appointment, barring complications, you can take off the sling for showering, getting dressed, and doing prescribed exercises.
- You can expect to be in the sling for four to six weeks.
- At your first post-op appointment, your specialist will review the recovery plan and discuss these issues with you.