Rotator Cuff Repair

What is a rotator cuff repair?

The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder in place. It’s one of the most important parts of the shoulder. It allows you to lift your arm and reach up. An injury to the rotator cuff, such as a tear, may happen suddenly when falling on an outstretched hand or develop over time due to repetitive activities. Rotator cuff degeneration and tears may also be caused by aging.

Front view of shoulder joint showing ligaments, muscles and tendons. Front view of shoulder joint showing torn rotator cuff.

If your rotator cuff is injured, you may need to repair it surgically. This may include shaving off bone spurs that are pinching the shoulder or repairing torn tendons or muscles in the shoulder. This usually involves reattaching the tendon to the head of the humerus. Surgical techniques that may be used to repair a tear of the rotator cuff include arthroscopy, open surgery, or a combination of both. The goal of rotator cuff repair surgery is to help restore the function and flexibility of the shoulder and to relieve the pain that can’t be controlled by other treatments.

How do I get ready for a rotator cuff repair?

  • Your provider will explain the procedure to you. You can ask questions.
  • You'll be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if something isn't clear.
  • In addition to a complete medical history, your provider may do a complete physical exam to make sure that you're in good health before undergoing the procedure. You may undergo blood tests or other diagnostic tests.
  • Tell your provider if you're sensitive to or allergic to any medicines, latex, tape, and anesthetic agents (local and general).
  • Tell your provider about all prescription and over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements that you're taking.
  • Tell your provider if you have a history of bleeding disorders or if you're taking any anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medicines, aspirin, or other medicines that affect blood clotting. It may be necessary for you to stop these medicines before the procedure.
  • If you're pregnant or think that you could be pregnant, tell your provider.
  • Follow any directions you're given about not eating or drinking before your procedure.
  • You may get a medicine (sedative) before the procedure to help you relax. Because the sedative may make you drowsy, you'll need to arrange for someone to drive you home.
  • You may meet with a physical therapist before your surgery to talk about rehabilitation.
  • Based on your medical condition, your provider may request other specific preparation.

What happens during a rotator cuff repair?

Rotator cuff repair may be done on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your provider’s practices.

Rotator cuff repair may be done while you're asleep under general anesthesia or while you're awake under local or regional anesthesia. If regional anesthesia is used, you'll have no feeling in your shoulder. The type of anesthesia will depend on the specific procedure being done. Your provider will discuss this with you in advance.

Generally, rotator cuff repair surgery follows this process:

  1. You'll be asked to remove clothing and given a gown to wear.
  2. An IV (intravenous) line may be started in your arm or hand.
  3. You'll be positioned on the operating table.
  4. The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will continuously monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and blood oxygen level during the surgery.
  5. The skin over your surgical site will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution.
  6. Your surgeon will make a cut (incision) in the shoulder area. The incision will vary depending on the type of surgery (open surgery, arthroscopy, or a combination of both) that may be done.
  7. The arthroscope (if used) will be put through the incision.
  8. Other incisions may be made to use other small grasping, probing, or cutting tools.
  9. The surgeon will fix or replace injured tendons and muscles with a graft tendon from another part of the body.
  10. Bone spurs will be removed if there are any.
  11. The incision will be closed with stitches or surgical staples.
  12. A sterile bandage or dressing will be applied.
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