When talking about injuries to the rotator cuff we are referring to damage of the tendons and muscles that help you move your shoulder, the joint that allows the most movement in the human body. Sometimes the cause can be attributed to a gradual degeneration of the affected area over time. This type of injury is seen more often in patients of a certain age. It can cause movement limitation and is accompanied with pain due to inflammation. While this is a common injury seen in athletes whose sport involves lifting their arm over their head, (tennis players and pitchers for example), it can also be caused by simple habits like sleeping on the same shoulder or certain movements within jobs tasks as painters and decorators might be required to do.

While the initial or mild pain can be relieved by rest, depending on the type of damage, it tends to gradually get worse over time and may need more proactive treatments. Symptoms can include pain when raising your arm, swelling, stiffness, a clicking sound when moving the arm, loss of movement in the arm.

If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms you should seek help as soon as possible and learn more about the type of injury you have.

Sometimes, having consulted with your specialist shoulder medical doctor you will be advised that the best possible treatment for you is surgery. If you are in the hands of an expert and have discussed your situation at length with him, from diagnosis to treatment, you may realize that this will give you a new, pain-free lease of life and is not as daunting a prospect as you might initially fear.

You will soon realize that by undergoing rotator cuff surgery you will have a reduction in pain and inflammation and an increase in mobility.

How Long Does Rotator Cuff Surgery Take?

There are many variables when answering this question. It really depends on the diagnosis, the damage done, the skill of the surgeon but in general terms an arthroscopy shoulder procedure can take from 45 minutes to one hour. Once it has been decided that surgery is the best option for you, having tried or excluded other methods of treatment you will be given a briefing by your shoulder specialist doctor of exactly what to expect.

There are three surgical options which repair rotator cuff injuries:

  • Open repair – used for large or difficult tears and if tendon transfer is needed
  • Mini-open repair – a combination of open repair and arthroscopic repair it is less invasive that the open repair surgery and often used where there is more than one rotator cuff damaged.
  • Arthroscopic repair – the least invasive of the three procedures, this method is used where the tear is small to medium in size. It involves the insertion of a small camera into an incision performed by the surgeon.

What Affects Recovery of Rotator Cuff Rurgery?

This depends on the type of injury or the severity of the injury itself. Other factors include the cause of the torn tendon, the size of the tear, how old the injury is and also the age and general health of the patient. In general terms however, a guideline to recovery time is between 4 – 6 months depending on the above mentioned factors. Physical therapy and a guided rehabilitation program help speed up recovery.

How to Have Optimum Post-Operative Recovery

Post-operative recovery can take 4-6 months while getting back to full, pre-surgery fitness may take 12 months. Post operative rehabilitation is fundamental to the recovery duration and outcome. The first stage is total immobilization of the shoulder. This allows the tendon and surgical wound to heal. Often a sling is used to this end and the patient can expect to use one for about a month post-op.

The next two stages involve exercise, the first being passive exercise where a physical therapist will guide the patient through a range of movements to help slowly strengthen the shoulder. In this phase the physical therapist will move the arm for the patient. The next stage involves active exercises which the patient can progress to when the surgeon feels the shoulder has built up enough strength – somewhere up to 6 months.