The rotator cuff is formed from four muscles and tendons that attach your arm to the top of your shoulder blade (see figure 1). Impingement or a tear are the usual types of damage that can happen to the rotator cuff. ‘Rotator cuff surgery’ can resolve this.
What are the benefits of rotator cuff surgery?
If the rotator cuff surgery is successful, you should have less pain and be able to use your shoulder more easily.
Are there any alternatives to surgery?
Most people with impingement or a small tear can get back good function by changing their activities, and with the help of physiotherapy.
Simple painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen can also help.
A steroid and local-anaesthetic injection into your shoulder can sometimes reduce pain. If you have a large tear, it is likely that surgery is your only option to get back some strength in your shoulder.
What will happen during my rotator cuff surgery?
When you meet with your consultant surgeon they'll ensure that you have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have about your rotator cuff surgery, they'll discuss with you what'll happen before, during and after the procedure and any pain you might have. Take this time with your consultant surgeon to ensure your mind is put at rest. We know that having an operation of any type can be stressful so we've created a short downloadable guide that you might find useful to print off and use to write down any questions you may have. Do take this with you to your consultation.
What does the rotator cuff surgery involve?
Impingement is usually treated by arthroscopy (‘keyhole’ surgery). If you have a large tear, you may need a larger cut.
Rotator cuff surgery is usually performed under a general anaesthetic. However, a variety of anaesthetic techniques are possible. The operation usually takes between three-quarters of an hour and an hour.
Your surgeon will use instruments to remove any thickened tissue, release any tight tissue and to shave off some bone. If you have a large tear, your surgeon will repair the rotator cuff using special stitches that anchor into the bone.
What complications can happen?
1. General complications of any operation
Infection in the surgical wound
2. Specific complications of this operation
Bleeding into the shoulder
Restricted shoulder movement
Infection in the shoulder
Severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of the arm and hand (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)
Damage to nerves
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home the same day. Any stitches or clips are usually removed about one to two weeks after the operation.
It can take up to a year to get back enough strength in your shoulder to return to normal activities. Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, you should ask a member of the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
You are unlikely to get back the same strength that you had before and often symptoms come back with time.
Rotator-cuff problems can cause pain and weakness in your shoulder. An operation can help to reduce any pain and to get back some strength in your shoulder.
This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.
Paying for your operation
Rotator cuff surgery costs are covered by most medical insurance policies, but please check with your insurer first. If you are paying for your own treatment the cost of the operation will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book the operation. Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes the surgeon’s fee, the anaesthetist’s fee and the hospital charge for your procedure.
The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.