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The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles in the shoulder and upper arm. The muscles help to move the arm at the shoulder and also help to stabilize the joint. The muscles are connected to the shoulder bone by tendons, which are strong, flexible cords. Tendons may become damaged from long term overuse or from injury.
A rotator cuff repair is a surgery to repair damage to the rotator cuff.
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What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor may do the following:
- Physical exam
- Blood tests
- An x-ray of the shoulder
- An MRI of the shoulder—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
Leading up to the procedure:
- Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
- Aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Blood thinners, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin)
- Do not eat or drink anything for at least 8 hours before surgery.
- Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.
General anesthesia is typically used. You will be asleep.
Description of Procedure
There are two methods used to perform a rotator cuff repair:
The doctor will make a large cut in the skin over the shoulder. The torn tendon will be repaired and reattached and/or anchored with stitches. The incision will then be closed with stitches or staples.
A few small incisions will be made in the shoulder. A narrow tool called an arthroscope will be inserted through the incision. The scope has a tiny camera to allow the doctor to see inside. Other small instruments will be inserted through the other incisions. The doctor will use these tools to repair the tendon.
After either procedure, the incisions will be bandaged. Your arm will be placed in a sling. The sling will prevent movement while you heal.
How Long Will It Take?
About 1 ½-2 hours
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. You may have some discomfort immediately after. Your doctor can give you medicine to help manage this.
Average Hospital Stay
You may be able to go home the same day. Some may need to stay in the hospital for one day.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
- Use ice to reduce swelling during the first 24-48 hours after surgery.
- Take the full doses of all medicines prescribed.
- Keep the bandage clean and dry at all times.
- Do not use the arm until instructed. Wear the sling as directed.
- Unless your job requires heavy lifting, you can usually return to work within a few days after surgery.
- Follow instructions for physical therapy. Therapy is essential to regain shoulder strength and range of motion.
- Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions .
The rotator cuff will take several months to heal. It may take some time before you can raise your arm above your shoulder. It may be up to one year before you can hold your arm above your head and do work with reasonable strength. An aggressive and consistent exercise program is the key to a faster recovery.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
University of Iowa Health Care website. Available at: