Does a Torn Rotator Cuff Always Require Surgical Repair?

Does a Torn Rotator Cuff Always Require Surgical Repair?

Rotator cuff tears plague anyone whose sport or occupation requires overhead activities. But everyone is at risk as years of arm movement damage the tendons. If you have arm or shoulder pain, you should know when your rotator cuff may need surgery.

A torn rotator cuff does not always need surgery. But the reasons for considering surgery may be different than you expect. For example, it doesn’t matter whether the tear is partial or complete — either injury could need surgical repair.

The skilled orthopedic surgeons at Alliance Spine Associates offer comprehensive care for rotator cuff injuries. Though your treatment usually begins with conservative therapies, the team helps you decide when to have surgery. Then they use their surgical experience to repair your shoulder and restore optimal strength and function.

Making a decision to have surgery depends on your unique health and goals. Here, we explore the reasons you may need surgery.

About rotator cuff tears

Your rotator cuff includes four muscles and their tendons. The muscles are anchored in your shoulder blade, while the tendons attach to your upper arm (humerus). As a result, they form a cufflike structure that covers the humerus.

The rotator cuff stabilizes the joint by holding the arm in the socket. It also supports arm movement, placing substantial stress on the tendons. Rotator cuff tears occur in one or more tendons.

Tendon tears cause pain and weakness in your arm and shoulder. You’ll also experience pain when using your arm, especially during overhead activities like lifting.

An acute injury (like falling on your arm) causes immediate pain. By comparison, overuse injuries and age-related degenerative changes begin with mild symptoms that slowly get worse.

As soon as you have symptoms, you should come in for an evaluation. A mild tear responds to conservative treatment. But if you keep using your arm, the tear enlarges, significantly increasing your pain and raising your chances of needing surgery.

Reasons for rotator cuff surgery

There are five key reasons to consider rotator cuff repair. We may recommend surgical repair if you:

1. Suffer with ongoing pain

Treatment for mild to moderate rotator cuff tears begins with nonsurgical techniques. If treatment doesn’t improve your pain, your pain worsens, or your symptoms last six months or longer, surgery may be the best (or only) way to ease your symptoms.

2. Experience loss of function

Significant arm weakness and loss of shoulder function are signs you may need surgical repair. These problems usually reflect the severity of the rotator cuff tear.

3. Have a severe or complete tear

A large tear or a completely ruptured tendon needs surgery to restore arm and shoulder function. During surgery, we remove inflamed and damaged tissues and reattach the tendon to the arm. Then you begin physical therapy and rehabilitation to restore strength and make sure the tissues heal.

4. Sustained an acute injury

We may suggest surgery when your rotator cuff tear is caused by an acute injury. Performing surgery within six weeks prevents muscle wasting from inactivity. By the time we consider surgery for an overuse or degenerative rotator cuff injury, you already have substantial muscle wasting, a problem that can only be treated with physical therapy.

5. Plan to return to activities

Whether you have a mild, moderate, or complete tear, chances are you’ll need surgery if you want to return to athletic and work activities requiring arm strength and movement. Surgical repair is especially important if you engage in overhead activities, such as baseball, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, football, painting, construction, and carpentry.

Don’t wait to seek help for arm and shoulder pain. Call Alliance Spine Associates or request an appointment online to start treatment to restore your shoulder.