10 Things to Know About Rotator Cuff Surgery

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • male doctor and patient with shoulder pain
    1. Rotator cuff surgery repairs a damaged or torn rotator cuff tendon.
    The rotator cuff tendons attach the shoulder muscles to the upper arm bone (humerus). They control the motion of your shoulder. Rotator cuff surgery can help restore pain-free range of motion, strength, and function in a damaged shoulder joint.
  • doctor-examining-patients-shoulder
    2. Rotator cuff surgery can repair partial and complete tears.
    Types of rotator cuff surgery include a complete tear repair and partial tear repair. A complete rotator cuff tear occurs when your tendon detaches completely from the bone. Your surgeon will reattach the tendon to the bone. A partial tear often begins with fraying and inflammation of the tendon. Your surgeon may only need to trim and smooth your tendon.
  • Older man with shoulder pain at doctor
    3. You may need to try nonsurgical treatments before having surgery.
    Not all torn or damaged rotator cuffs need surgery right away. Surgeons may only consider surgery if nonsurgical treatments, such as physical therapy, are not working. Rotator cuff surgery may be performed if damaged tendons cause pain for 6 to 12 months. Rotator cuff surgery is also done if there is a large tear or loss of shoulder function.
  • African American surgeon smiling in hospital operating room
    4. Orthopedic surgeons perform rotator cuff surgery.
    An orthopedic surgeon is an expert in caring for problems of the bones, joints, and related tissues with surgery and other treatments. Your orthopedic surgeon will lead a surgical team and perform your surgery in a hospital or outpatient setting. You can search for an orthopedic surgeon in your area on HealthGrades website.
  • Team of surgeons in operation room
    5. The two types of rotator cuff surgery are open and minimally invasive (laparoscopic).
    You will have a nerve block (regional anesthesia) or general anesthesia so you do not feel pain. For an open repair, your surgeon will make a single, large cut in your shoulder. Minimally invasive surgery requires a few smaller incisions and a surgical camera to see the surgical area. A mini-open surgery combines both techniques. Ask your surgeon what type of surgery is best for you.
  • mature male with shoulder pain
    6. Complications of rotator cuff surgery are possible during and after surgery.
    Risks of rotator cuff surgery can include bleeding, a blood clot, infection, and reaction to anesthesia. You can also have nerve damage, tendon re-tear, and shoulder stiffness. Another risk is detaching of the deltoid muscle. Ask your doctor how you can reduce some risks by following your recovery plan. This includes physical therapy to help you heal safely.
  • doctor-reviewing-xray-in-hospital
    7. You’ll have preoperative tests before surgery.
    Generally, these include blood tests, an MRI, an EKG, a chest X-ray, and other tests. You may need to shower with an anti-septic soap before surgery. Your surgeon will give you instructions about taking medications and when to stop all food and drink the night before surgery. You will also likely need to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and blood thinners before surgery. Be sure to tell your surgeon about all your allergies, medications, and your full medical history.
  • Senior woman in hospital bed
    8. Be prepared to discuss your medical history the day of surgery.
    Once you’re at the hospital, you can expect to sign a surgical consent, remove all clothing and jewelry, and dress in a hospital gown. You will talk with the surgical team about your medical history. Your surgery team will start an IV and your anesthesia. They will also attach wires and possibly some tubes that control and monitor your vital signs and body functions. You will not feel this or remember the surgery.
  • Patient in arm sling
    9. Physical therapy is an important part of recovery.
    Recovery after rotator cuff surgery is a gradual process. You may go home the same day of surgery or stay in the hospital for a day or two, depending on your condition. Your surgeon will treat your pain and send you to physical therapy to help you recover. Call your surgeon if your pain increases or if you have bleeding, fever, arm numbness, problems breathing, or wound redness or drainage. Full rotator cuff surgery recovery time is three to twelve months.
  • smiling-woman-lifting-weights
    10. Stick with your treatment plan to improve your shoulder strength.
    Rotator cuff surgery can relieve your pain and restore shoulder strength so you can lead an active life. It’s important to follow your treatment plan to prevent further shoulder damage. This may include regular exercises, keeping pressure off your shoulder, and using proper body mechanics to lift heavy objects.
10 Things to Know About Rotator Cuff Surgery: Types & Recovery Time
Rotator Cuff Surgery
  1. Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. 
  2. Rotator Cuff Tears. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00064
  3. Wave Goodbye to Shoulder Pain. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/ccf/media/files/ortho/shoulder_pain_guide.pdf
  4. Rotator Cuff Tears: Surgical Treatment Options. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00406
  5. Questions and Answers About Shoulder Problems. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Shoulder_Problems/
  6. Shoulder Surgery. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00066
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 26
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