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The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles in the shoulder and upper arm. The muscles help to move the arm at the shoulder and to stabilize the joint. The muscles are connected to the shoulder bone by tendons, which are strong, flexible cords. The muscles or tendons may become damaged from long term overuse or from injury.

Rotator Cuff Tear
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Reasons for Procedure

Your doctor may recommend this procedure for:

  • A rotator cuff injury that does not respond to rest and physical therapy treatment
  • A complete tear in the tendon
  • Chronic pain and weakness from a partial tear in the tendon

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Infection
  • Excess bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Weakness or numbness in shoulder joint
  • Detachment of the shoulder muscle
  • The operation does not improve function

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes or other chronic disease

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor may do the following:

  • Shoulder x-ray
  • MRI scan to see the internal structure of the shoulder

Before this procedure, you will need to:

  • Talk to your doctor about any medications, herbs, or supplements you are taking
  • Talk to your doctor about any allergies you have
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure
  • Arrange for help at home while you recover
  • Ask your doctor about assisted devices you will need

You may need to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.

Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the day before your procedure, unless told otherwise by your doctor.


General anesthesia is typically used. You will be asleep during the procedure.

Description of Procedure

There are 2 methods used to perform a rotator cuff repair:

Open Surgery

A cut will be made in the skin over the shoulder. The torn muscle or tendon will be repaired and reattached and/or anchored with stitches. The incision will then be closed with stitches or staples.

Arthroscopic Surgery

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. These tools will be used to repair the tendon or muscle.

After either procedure, the incisions will be bandaged. Your arm will be placed in a sling or brace to immobilize the joint.

How Long Will It Take?

About 1½ to 2 hours

How Much Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. You may have some discomfort immediately after. Ask your doctor about medication to help with the pain.

Average Hospital Stay

You may be able to go home the same day. Some may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

Post-procedure Care

At the Care Center

Right after the procedure, you may be given medication, such as:

  • Pain medication
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Medication that prevents blood clots
At Home

When you return home, take these steps:

When you return home, take these steps:

  • Do not use the arm until instructed. Wear the sling or brace as directed.
  • 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 1 year before you can hold your arm above your head and do work with reasonable strength. An aggressive and consistent physical therapy and exercise program is the key to a faster recovery.

Call Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications such as:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge at the incision site
  • Pain that cannot be controlled with the medications you were given
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • The stitches or staples come apart

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American College of Sports Medicine  http://acsm.org 

FamilyDoctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  http://familydoctor.org 


Canadian Physiotherapy Association  http://www.physiotherapy.ca 

Public Health Agency of Canada  http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca 


Rotator cuff repair. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test%5Fprocedures/orthopaedic/rotator%5Fcuff%5Frepair%5F92,P07682/. Accessed February 8, 2018.

Rotator cuff tear. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114498/Rotator-cuff-tear  . Updated February 16, 2017. Accessed February 8, 2018.

Rotator cuff tears: surgical treatment options. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00406. Updated March 2017. Accessed February 8, 2018.

6/2/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance.  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114498/Rotator-cuff-tear  : Mills E, Eyawo O, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.

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