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Shoulder Rotator Cuff Repairs

  • What is a shoulder rotator cuff repair?

    A shoulder rotator cuff repair is a surgery to repair torn muscles at the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is a ball and socket connection supported by a group of muscles and tendons that facilitate a wide range of 3-dimensional movements. Acute injury, overuse and strain can cause tears in the rotator cuff muscles. Age-related wear and tear can also cause tendon degeneration.

    Rotator cuff repairs

    Rotator cuff tears can be either partial or complete. A muscle that is frayed or damaged is considered a partial rotator cuff tear. A complete tear is when the damage extends all the way to the tendon or pulls the tendon off the bone.

    Although rotator cuff tears can sometimes go unnoticed, especially if there is no shoulder pain, it is quite common to experience symptoms such as:

    • Clicking or popping sound with movement
    • Difficulty reaching behind the back
    • Pain and tenderness during shoulder movement
    • Progressive weakness of the shoulder
    • Reduced range of movement

    Surgical treatment of rotator cuff tears can be performed as an open repair or with shoulder arthroscopy. Open repair surgery is usually recommended for larger and more complex tears, requiring general anaesthesia. Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is less invasive and can be done in a day surgery or outpatient setting.

    In partial tears, the muscles may only require debridement or trimming. For complete tears, the surgeon will reattach the tendon to the head of the humerus using suture anchors which are then attached with sutures to tie or attach the tendon back to the bone. Suture anchors do not need to be removed after the tendon has healed.

  • You may need treatment if you have a serious or complete rotator cuff tears or injuries which do not heal completely. If left untreated, these symptoms could lead to frozen shoulder and arthritis. The procedure is called a shoulder rotator cuff repair.

    Minor injuries to the rotator cuff can be managed non-surgically with:

    • Rest
    • Rotator cuff exercises to restore muscle strength and increase motion range
    • Hot or cold packs
    • Anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling and pain

    Surgery may be suggested where there is significant loss of shoulder function or persistent symptoms that are unresponsive to non-surgical treatment.

  • Preparing for a shoulder rotator cuff repair surgery

    Before going for surgery, talk to your surgeon about what to expect.

    • Tell your doctor about any health condition or allergies you have and all medications you are taking.
    • Do not take any unprescribed medication and health supplements unless cleared by your doctor.
    • Optimise general health and stop smoking at least a month before surgery.
    • Arrange for assistance after the surgery.
    • Ensure you have loose fitting clothes that are easy to wear and fasten.

    What to expect after a shoulder rotator cuff repair surgery?

    After surgery, your shoulder, and perhaps even your arm and hand, will be sore and swollen. You will need to wear a shoulder immobiliser, the duration for which will depend on the type of surgery. After that, a sling will be required for about 6 weeks to support the arm and restrict shoulder movement. During this time, movement of the affected shoulder is limited and activities such as driving, lifting and pulling must be avoided. However, you should continue to use your fingers and hands.

    Keep the incision dry and clean and keep an eye out for redness and discharge and tingle or numbness in the arm, hand or fingers. Pain is managed with medication and rest is important for better and faster recovery.

    Recovery period for a shoulder rotator cuff repair surgery

    After you have recovered from surgery, you would most likely need rehabilitation and physiotherapy to help you regain and improve mobility of the shoulder. Full recovery can take between 4 – 6 months.

    Risks associated with a shoulder rotator cuff repair surgery

    As with all surgery, there are risks to shoulder rotator cuff repair surgery. These include:

    • Allergic reactions to anaesthesia and other medication
    • Breathing problems
    • Bleeding, blood clots and infection
    • Injury to tendons, blood vessels of nerves
    • Permanent joint stiffness
    • Recurrent tears of the rotator cuff
  • At Mount Elizabeth Hospitals, we pride ourselves on providing quality care. Our team of experienced surgeons are well-trained in performing procedures such as shoulder rotator cuff repair surgery and we look forward to assisting you on your journey towards better health.

    Take your first step towards better health today, and experience quality and customised healthcare.

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