Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Rotator Cuff Repair
Surgery may be used to treat a torn rotator cuff if the injury is very severe or if nonsurgical treatment has failed to improve shoulder strength and movement sufficiently.
Surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff tendon usually involves:
Arthroscopic surgery is the most common way that this surgery is done. But in some cases, the surgeon needs to do open-shoulder surgery, which requires a larger incision.
Discomfort after surgery may decrease with taking pain medicines prescribed by your doctor.
Your arm will be protected in a sling for a defined period of time.
Physical therapy after surgery is crucial to a successful recovery. A rehabilitation program may include the following:
Surgery to repair a rotator cuff is done when:
Rotator cuff repair surgery for a tear from a sudden injury works best if it is done within a few weeks of the injury.footnote 1 But repairs of very large tears are not always successful.
Rotator cuff surgery to repair frayed or thinned tendon tissue is less likely to work than surgery to repair an injury to a healthy tendon.
In addition to the risks of surgery in general, such as blood loss or problems related to anesthesia, complications of rotator cuff surgery may include:
Very large tears [greater than 2 in. (5 cm) or involving more than one rotator cuff tendon] often cannot be repaired by this type of surgery. Grafting and patching procedures are possible. But they are not much better at restoring strength than debridement and smoothing, which are less risky and require less rehabilitation.
Less active people (usually those older than 60) with confirmed rotator cuff tears that do not cause pain, significant weakness, or sleep problems can safely go without surgery unless symptoms get worse.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Rotator cuff tears. In JF Sarwark, ed., Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed., pp. 311–316. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Other Works Consulted
Beasley Vidal LS, et al. (2007). Shoulder injuries. In PJ McMahon, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Sports Medicine, pp. 118–145. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lin KC, et al. (2010). Rotator cuff: 1. Impingement lesions in adult and adolescent athletes. In JC DeLee et al., eds., DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine, Principles and Practice, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 986–1015. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Current as of:
June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineKenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma
Current as of:
June 26, 2019
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Kenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.