Your rotator cuff is the band of tendons and tissues that keep your shoulder joint in place and allow you to move your shoulder and arm. Sometimes, your rotator cuff can become strained or torn after an accident or due to wear and tear associated with aging.
A strained or torn rotator cuff can be a major source of pain and discomfort for patients, especially when it impedes daily life. In many cases, these injuries can be treated with bed rest or other non-surgical treatments—but sometimes, rotator cuff surgery may be the best solution.
Choosing to undergo surgery for an injury is a big decision. How do you know if it’s right for you? What does the recovery process look like? Florida Medical Clinic orthopedic surgeon Dr. Casey Gaskins answers these questions and more so that you can know what to expect before, during, and after rotator cuff surgery.
Who is a candidate for rotator cuff surgery?
To determine if you’re a candidate for rotator cuff surgery, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, perform a physical exam, and recommend imaging tests, like an X-ray or MRI.
Anyone who has had a severe fall or accident may tear their rotator cuff, though this injury most commonly occurs in athletes, seniors, bowlers, and those who perform a lot of physical repetitive motions for work. We treat all types of patients- from baseball pitchers to grandparents looking to get back in the game.
Symptoms of a torn rotator cuff include:
- Shoulder pain/ache, especially when raising the arm
- Difficulty sleeping because of discomfort
- Arm/shoulder weakness
- A cracking or popping feeling
Doctors usually recommend surgery for patients who have injuries that cannot be successfully treated through non-surgical means. Strains, small tears, and other minor injuries can often be healed through rest—but sometimes an injury is severe enough that more serious medical intervention is required.
Rotator cuff surgery may be the right option for you if your symptoms:
- Have lasted more than 6 months
- Are the result of a recent, acute injury
- Cause a significant loss of function in your shoulder that you can’t perform everyday tasks
- Have continued nighttime pain
Types of Rotator Cuff Surgeries
If your orthopedic doctor has recommended surgery, the next step is determining what kind of rotator cuff surgery you’ll need. There are several different types, including:
- Arthroscopic repairs. Arthroscopic surgery is an out-patient procedure, which means patients can return home to recover after surgery. It involves making very small incisions and using a tiny camera to perform repairs in patients with small-to-large-sized tears.
- Mini-open repairs. These are a middle ground between open and arthroscopic procedures. They typically start with an arthroscopic evaluation of the damage, then use small open repair techniques to treat the injury. However, mini-open procedures don’t include detaching the shoulder muscle fully, like in an open repair.
- Open repairs. Open repair surgery is an invasive procedure that involves a surgeon detaching parts of the shoulder muscle to access the torn tissue underneath. Open repairs are typically performed in cases of severe injury or if additional tissue grafts are needed for the repair.
The type of surgery that’s best for you will depend on a few different factors, including the severity of your injury, your symptoms and level of mobility, and if you have any other shoulder problems that also need surgical attention.
As an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Gaskins works one-on-one with patients to find a treatment plan that minimizes their pain, restores shoulder function, and has the shortest recovery time possible.
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Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery Timeline
Rotator cuff surgery has a significant recovery period that involves plenty of rest and physical therapy. No matter what type of procedure you receive, your doctor will ask you to rest your shoulder and arm as much as possible for the first few weeks post-surgery.
Depending on the type of surgical procedure you receive, you may need to stay overnight in the hospital immediately afterward, or you may be allowed to return home the same day in the case of outpatient surgery.
First Week After Surgery
For the first week after surgery, you’ll be asked to stay home and rest as much as possible. Your arm will be in a sling to help protect you from accidentally injuring yourself or straining the muscles. You’ll be able to use your elbow, wrist, and hand- but need to rest your shoulder. You can use ice to help with pain, as well as any painkillers as directed by your doctor.
2-6 Weeks After Surgery
For the first two to six weeks after surgery, you’ll still be limited in the daily activities you can perform, but you can use your arm in small motions (like eating). You’ll be asked not to drive or lift any object heavier than a pound in the first six weeks.
During this period, you will likely begin physical therapy.
2-3 Months After Surgery
Around two to three months after surgery, you and your physical therapist will focus on rebuilding strength in your shoulder muscles. The exact length of physical rehabilitation will vary from person to person, so some may require more time than others in this phase.
First 12 Months After Surgery
Your shoulder will still be healing even a year after surgery, so it’s important to be cautious and take steps not to re-injure your shoulder. You’ll be able to perform regular activities around the house and at work and return to sports activities, but don’t push yourself too hard. Ask your physical therapist if you’re not sure if you can safely perform an activity.
Talk to a Doctor About Rotator Cuff Surgery
If you’re struggling with shoulder pain and can’t find relief, it’s time to talk to a doctor. Letting an injury go untreated may only make it worse in the future. An orthopedic specialist can help you understand the extent of your injury and find a treatment plan that works best for you—whether it involves surgery or not.
At Florida Medical Clinic, our orthopedic doctors are dedicated to creating individualized plans for each patient that maximize positive outcomes and minimize recovery times. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Casey Gaskins specializes in advanced, minimally-invasive shoulder surgical techniques with shorter recovery times so that patients can spend more time doing the activities they love, pain-free.
To talk about your options, schedule an appointment with Dr. Gaskins at our North Tampa, Wiregrass, or Zephyrhills locations. Virtual telemedicine appointments are also available.
About Dr. Casey Gaskins
Roger “Casey” Gaskins, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who was born and raised in Florida. Dr. Gaskins uses both surgical and non-surgical treatment options to help patients find relief from pain, regain mobility, and prevent future injuries.
As an upper extremity specialist, Dr. Gaskins treats every orthopedic concern from fingertip to elbow, including rotator cuff injuries, carpal tunnel, arthritis, fractures, and more. His research on orthopedic topics has been published in a variety of journals, as well as presented internationally.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications or treatments.