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St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center

Care That Moves You

May 21 2013
Rotator Cuff Surgery: Be Patient - You’ll Get There!

It's funny, when you're an orthopaedic surgery resident (surgeon in-training, typically five years after medical school for orthopaedic surgeons) you don't get to follow patients for very long. That’s because you do rotations that typically last only two-three months at a time; therefore, you rarely see patients over a longer time frame. This makes it difficult to know the outcomes of all the different surgeries and the length of time it takes for patients to appreciate the benefits of surgery.

The rotator cuff is a series of four tendons that attach to the ball part of your shoulder. The muscles of the rotator cuff originate on your shoulder blade. A healthy rotator cuff is essential for a healthy shoulder. When there is a tear in the rotator cuff, you can have tremendous pain with the simplest of movements such as reaching for a cup of coffee, putting dishes away, reaching behind your back, etc. Typically, people will experience an ache in the upper arm which will sometimes radiate to the elbow. The pain can be sharp and stabbing particularly with certain movements. Often the pain will be worse at night and can significantly disrupt sleep.

Over the last few years I have done a lot of shoulder arthroscopies and arthroscopic rotator cuff repairs and one of the many things I have learned is that it takes a long time to fully recover from a rotator cuff repair. I define a full recovery as getting to the point where you can use your shoulder in everyday life and activities without even thinking about it. It is painless, strong, and free of any stiffness. This usually takes three-six months minimum and sometimes depending on the size of the tear and how well you heal it can be up to one-two years to reach a full recovery!

A well done rotator cuff repair is a great operation. It will restore your quality of life, rid you of pain, and allow you to do the things that are important to you in life. Just understand that it takes time to recover, it doesn’t happen overnight. When you understand this, and your expectations are aligned with reality, you will get through the highs and lows of the lengthy recovery and the at times grueling post-operative physical therapy knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel.


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The information provided on this site should not be taken as medical advice. As always, we strongly recommend that you consult with a physician if you have any medical concerns.