Understanding Rotator Cuff Injury

How is a rotator cuff tear treated?

Your doctor may recommend different treatment options depending on your particular symptoms and the severity of your condition.

Rest up.
Your doctor will likely recommend that you avoid engaging in any activity that causes symptoms or makes your symptoms feel worse. That may mean the temporary use of a sling.

Manage the pain.
Your doctor may prescribe or recommend the use of anti-inflammatory medications (like aspirin or ibuprofen) and ice packs applied to the shoulder to reduce inflammation and pain. Often a local injection of cortisone or lidocaine, or both, helps to further reduce inflammation.

Get the right moves.
Your doctor may recommend several specific strengthening exercises for you to perform on your own throughout the day. You may even be given a prescription for a course of physical therapy. During physical therapy sessions, a trained therapist may apply heat wraps, use painless electro-stimulation, provide massage and/or teach you special exercises to help reduce your pain, increase your motion and improve your strength.

Understand your surgical options.
If you are still experiencing pain after all other conservative measures have been taken, or if your tear is the result of a traumatic injury, your doctor may suggest surgery to repair the tear, help relieve your pain and help restore your mobility. Surgical procedures to repair a rotator cuff tear range from debriding (a procedure in which a partial tear is smoothed) to stitching the torn tendon and, if necessary, re-attaching it to the humerus bone with small anchors. Your doctor will help you to determine the procedure most appropriate for you and for the extent of your injury.

Today’s techniques, matched with newer instruments, may allow your doctor to repair your rotator cuff tear on an outpatient basis with mini-open surgery (requiring only a two- to three-inch incision) or arthroscopic surgery (using a fiber optic scope, requiring even smaller incisions). To secure your repair, your doctor will use anchor options that are designed to meet the needs of your injury, your anatomy and your doctor’s preference, including both titanium and “bioabsorbable” anchors. Bioabsorbables, like Stryker’s BioZip Anchor, are designed to allow the body to use the anchor as a scaffold to build its own permanent repair.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about the best treatment option for you.

Commit to feeling better.
Whether your doctor performs mini-open surgery, or even less-invasive arthroscopic surgery, you will likely be able to go home the same day. You may have to keep your arm in a sling for a period of time while you heal. Although full recovery from rotator cuff injury and repair may take several months, during that time you will be engaged in specific exercises, perhaps a course of rehabilitative physical therapy, to help regain your full range of motion without pain. Complete rehabilitation often depends on your commitment to following your doctor’s recovery recommendations. Your doctor can also help you determine how soon after surgery you can safely begin participating in activities that involve the rotator cuff.