The rotator cuff is made of four muscles in the shoulder and upper arm. These muscles are attached to bones by tough cords called tendons. These muscles stabilize the shoulder joint and help it to function.
Persons who have tears to the rotator cuff tendon that do not respond to treatment are candidates for surgery. Surgery is usually needed if there is a complete tear in the tendon, resulting in the inability to raise the arm. Surgery may also be needed for a partial tear of the tendon, if the tear causes continued pain and weakness. In a complete tear, repair is usually done within 3 months of the injury.
There are two typical types of people who suffer from a rotator cuff tear. Younger people often experience a rotator cuff tear as an athletic injury. Middle-aged or elderly people usually have repeated stress of the shoulder muscles over time that eventually causes the tendon to tear.
A rotator cuff repair is usually done under general anesthesia, meaning that the person is put to sleep with medications. Most often, the surgeon makes a 2- to 4-inch incision made in the side of the shoulder, and identifies the torn tendon. The torn edge is then reattached to the humerus, or upper arm bone, with stitches. This procedure takes about 11/2 to 2 hours.
The procedure can also be done through an arthroscope. An arthroscope is a pencil-sized tube with a light and camera attached to the end of it. It is inserted into a small cut in the shoulder. An image of the inside of the shoulder is then seen on a television screen. Other tools can be inserted through other small cuts to perform the surgery.
Surgery with the arthroscope results in smaller scars and usually means faster recovery. It cannot be used in all cases, but it is becoming more and more common. Rotator cuff repair surgery is usually done in a same day surgery setting, and the individual can go home after a short recovery time.
Griffith, H. Winter. Instructions for Patients. Philadelphia:W.B. Saunders company, 1994
"Patient Guide To Rotator Cuff Tendinitis", [hyperLink url="http://ww2.med.jhu.edu/ortho/sports/shoulder/rotator/" linkTitle="ww2.med.jhu.edu/ortho/sports/shoulder/rotator"]ww2.med.jhu.edu/ortho/sports/shoulder/rotator[/hyperLink]