by EBSCO Medical Review Board


Rotator cuff repair is surgery to treat damage to the muscles and tendons that support the shoulder.

Rotator Cuff Tear
nucleus image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Reasons for Procedure

This surgery is done on people who are not helped by other methods. It is also done to treat a complete tear or when pain and weakness limit activities.

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing and sore throat
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Weakness or numbness in shoulder joint
  • Detachment of the shoulder muscle
  • Surgery does not improve function

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

  • Smoking
  • Chronic conditions, such as diabetes or obesity
  • Alcohol use disorder

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Arranging for a ride to and from surgery
  • Tests that will need to be done before surgery, such as images of the shoulder


The doctor may give general anesthesia. You will be asleep.

Description of Procedure

This can be done using open surgery or arthroscopic surgery.

Open Surgery

A cut will be made in the skin over the shoulder. The torn muscle or tendon will be repaired and reattached. It may be held down with stitches. The incision will be closed with stitches or staples. A bandage will be placed on it.

Arthroscopic Surgery

A few small incisions will be made in the shoulder. A narrow tool called an arthroscope will be placed through the incision. The scope has a tiny camera to let the doctor view the area. Other small instruments will be inserted through the other incisions. These tools will be used to repair the tendon or muscle. The incision will be closed with stitches or staples. A bandage will be placed on it.

How Long Will It Take?

One and one-half to 2 hours

Will It Hurt?

Pain and swelling are common in the first few weeks. Medicine and home care can manage pain.

Average Hospital Stay

You may be able to go home the same day. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.

Post-procedure Care

At the Care Center

Right after the procedure, the staff may:

  • Give you pain medicine or medicine to prevent blood clots
  • Put your arm in a sling or brace to keep it from moving as it heals

During your stay, staff will take steps to lower your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your incisions covered

You can also lower your chance of infection by:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
  • Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
  • Not letting others touch your incisions
At Home

It will take several months to fully heal. Physical activity will be limited during recovery. You may need to ask for help with daily activities and delay your return to work for a few weeks. It will take about 6 weeks before you can begin light activities.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, more pain, a lot of bleeding, or leaking from the incision
  • Pain that you cannot control with medicine
  • 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 medical help right away.


American College of Sports Medicine 

FamilyDoctor—American Academy of Family Physicians 


Canadian Physiotherapy Association 

Public Health Agency of Canada 


American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS). Management of Rotator Cuff Injuries Clinical Practice Guideline. AAOS 2019 Mar 11.

Rotator cuff tear. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed July 15, 2020.

Rotator cuff tears: surgical treatment options. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: Accessed July 15, 2020.

Revision Information