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Rotator Cuff Surgery - My Experience

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

Anatomy Book

Anatomy Book

Rotator Cuff Surgical Repair

My absence from writing on Hubpages lately has been due primarily to having had rotator cuff surgery. Rotator cuff disease is one of the most prevalent muscular-skeletal disorders, and the shoulder is the most complicated joint in the body.

Approximately 200,000 surgeries are done in America annually for repair of the rotator cuff, and another 400,000 have surgery for tendonitis or partial tears, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. They also remove loose fragments of tendons, bursa, and other debris in the shoulder space where the rotator cuff moves. This surgery is not for sissies!

The good news was I was given an injection in the area of my neck that numbed my whole arm until midnight on the day of surgery. There was also pain medicine put directly into the surgery site, which was slowly released over the first few days.

What is the Rotator Cuff?

The Rotator Cuff is a group of muscles and tendons, which are tough, flexible, fibrous bands of tissue that form the rotator cuff. It surrounds the shoulder joint.

Tendons actually attach the muscles to bones. They hold the arm in place and help with movement.

Rotator Cuff Injuries and Repair

Surgical Repair

Sometimes rotator injuries or partial tears will heal with the help of physical therapy and rest.

If surgery is done there may be a large incision, but more often it is done with an arthroscopy, which uses small incisions. A tiny camera is inserted, which allows the surgeon to see where the repairs are necessary. This is the way my surgery was done, which took 2 1/2 hours.

Rotator cuff repair usually means re-attaching the tendon to the head of the humerus, which is the upper arm bone. Sometimes there is only a partial tear, so a debridement procedure will be done, which involves some trimming and sutures. A full tendon tear involves suturing the tendon back to where it belongs on the humerus.

Most of the time this surgery is done on an outpatient basis, so you return home the same day following surgery.

When is the Surgery Performed?

Rotator cuff repair may be necessary for the following reasons:

  • Shoulder pain when at rest or at night that has not improved following 6-12 months of therapy
  • You are very active and use your shoulders for work or sports
  • You have arm weakness and cannot perform your daily activities
  • A large or complete rotator cuff tear
  • A tear caused by a recent injury
  • Chronic rotator cuff problems without any tendon tears

Preparation for Surgery – (Two Weeks Before)

  1. Prior to surgery it is a good idea to not smoke for two weeks or quit if possible.
  2. Stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory medication
  3. Ask your physician which of your medications to take the day of surgery
  4. Let you physician know if you consume more than two alcoholic beverages a day as this might affect anesthesia
  5. Let your surgeon know if you have a fever, cold, flu, herpes breakout or other illness before surgery

Recovery Period

For the first six weeks you wear a sling, and sleeping in a recliner is easier than sleeping in a bed.

Physical therapy begins within a couple of days and is basically a passive range of movement exercise. You are not allowed to move your arm around much, as another tear would mean a second surgery. Believe me you do not want a second surgery as this surgery is very painful. The Physical Therapist works with your shoulder to overcome the stiffness and prevent scar tissue, which can be a common problem.

After six weeks, you begin using your muscles slowly with guidance from the therapist, and you no longer have to wear the sling.

In my instance I am in my 8th week of active exercise in therapy, which will soon continue at home. I use an ice pack that is designed to fit my shoulder following the exercise. It helps to relieve the pain. Sleeping has been particularly difficult, but it is improving.

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Surgical Sling - 6 weeks

Surgical Sling - 6 weeks

Physical Therapy

The projected recovery time per my doctor is 5-6 months, and it has been about 12 weeks at this time. It is amazing how many people have this surgery. I am completing my physical therapy this week, but will continue with a therapy plan at home.

To help prevent these problems, regular exercise that involves the arm and back muscles will help.

I have met several people that have had this surgery or have a relative with this experience. It is more common after the age of 65, for diabetics and those who have had prednisone injections in their shoulder.

My Specific Case

I thought shoulder surgery was primarily done on people with a traumatic injury, but my orthopedic doctor said most rotator cuffs (65%) of surgeries were from the slower process of wear and tear.

I have had osteoarthritis for years, which was another factor in my case. I had chronic shoulder pain, especially at night and could not sleep on my left shoulder. I had one tendon completely torn apart, and two others with partial tears. I also had the arthritic end of my clavicle removed due to the arthritis. This will cut down on pain in the coming years.

Physical Therapy After Rotator Cuff Repair Surgery

Present Day

I am glad I had this surgery as my damage was severe. Research has shown that the tendons are still inactive five years after repair, and then the pain will be gone. My pain is gone, and I am able to do many more activities..

Another problem is weakness in my arm as one muscle was atrophied, according to the scan. I would encourage anyone with a shoulder problem to get it treated sooner rather than wait, as waiting can create more damage.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2014 Pamela Oglesby


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on June 21, 2018:

That particular surgery requires a lot of PT. It helped me a immensely. I appreciate your comments.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2018:

So very sorry that you have had to endure such pain. I am glad to know that post surgery and with lots of PT that your situation is improving. Hope it continues.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 14, 2015:

Glen, My physical therapist was pretty good to adjust things to my tolerance. He keep me working through 12 weeks of therapy, but I see the doctor on Thurs. I'll see what he has to say. I really do think I did too much work in the yard, and that is why it probably flared up again. Thanks for your comments. again.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 14, 2015:

teamm, One good reason for that is many people tend to build up scar tissue. The PT guy told me he was working with several people who had a lot of stiffness due to scar tissue. The pain has improved over the past two days, but I am only doing mild therapy and not lifting anything heavy. I had no pain for a while, so I do think I overdid it in the yard, which caused the pain to return. I appreciate your comments.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on April 14, 2015:

Based on my own experience, I would say that if the PT was not tolerable, then they were making you do the wrong exercises. I knew certain motions were wrong and my phisical therapist adjusted for them. Mention that to your doctor when you see him or her this Thursday. Good luck with that visit.

teamrn from Chicago on April 11, 2015:

It was my experience that physical therapy should be instituted as soon as is advisable after injury. After the prescribed length of time tne and only THEN, it is time to ask the doctor for 'the next step!'

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 11, 2015:

That is interesting. I thought the pain in my shoulder was arthritis too at first. I certainly prefer the PT, but the pain has been so intense over the past weeks I wondered if I was doing more damage. I appreciate your encouragement, and the body is very remarkable for sure. I am seeing my doctor on Thurs., but I am more hopeful that PT is the answer. He is very conservative, and he kept me in PT for a few years berfore it ewas no longer tolerable. Thanks for your help.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on April 10, 2015:

I also have one muscle that is atrophied because I have a complete tear of the supraspinatus tendon. I actually waited a whole year to get a diagnosis, ignoring it - thinking it was just arthritis.

But when my doctor confirmed I had a compete tear that was already a year old, he said surgery may not work due to the atrophied muscle. I explain why in a hub I wrote about it.

So the only solution is a lifetime of continuing the PT to keep the other muscles balanced. That's how I am avoiding the pain and keeping full mobility.

The human body I really so amazing. We have a lot of redundancy that can take over when parts are damaged. We just need to let the other parts work right. Don't give up on the PT. I can say that from personal experience.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 10, 2015:

I have been reluctant to push the PT the past couple of weeks due to the intense pain in my shoulder that runs down my arm. I am seeing my doctor this week, so I will see what he says. I have a muscle that is atrophied, and he said I may always have trouble with it. I want to get his opinion before I push it too much.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on April 08, 2015:

Pamela, I also did something that brought back the pain once. And I was losing my mobility. But then I remembered that I was not doing the PT exercises for over a week. So I got back into that. The pain went away and the mobility came back. So just remember that you need to keep up with the PT forever. It will keep you going.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 08, 2015:

Glen, I wish I had worked longer on the therapy before trimming the bushes as I ave been on Prednisone for many years and do no heal quickly. I think this is another one of those lessons I should have already learned. I did keep doing some of the therapy training a home, but apparently not for a long enough period of time. You are wise as you have listened to your doctor and avoided a very tough surgery. I have had other surgeries, but this was the most difficult recovery I have experienced. Thanks for writing me back and keep up the good work!

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on April 08, 2015:

I misunderstood about the timing. I guess I thought you had the surgery when it was the physical therapy you had had. I'm sure that is what bought you time until you ended up with the surgery anyway.

But now you need to continue the therapy so you don't re-injure yourself. If you feel pain trimming bushes, it's a sign that you need more therapy to keep the muscles strong. Otherwise the rotator cuff can tear again.

I keep doing the same PT exercises they taught me, but now I do it on my own at home. I asked my doctor why is it that I can do almost anything when the major tendon is completely torn. He said it's because I am constantly training the muscles to take over by repeating the PT. He said if I continue that the rest of my life, I may never lose mobility.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 07, 2015:

Glen, It has only been about 8 mos. since my surgery, and I was pain free for a while. Than, I trimmed some bushes and have aggravated a muscle, which I think time will heal. I had physical therapy about 3 years before the surgery, so I think it bought me time in my case, but I had a of damage by the time I had the surgery. I am glad to hear the physical therapy worked for you, and it is different for everyone. Thanks for your comments.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on April 07, 2015:

It's good to hear you are doing well five years after your rotator cuff surgery Pamela. Ironically, I had the exact same damage. The supraspinatus tendon tore completely and two others had partial tears.

For me, physical therapy helped regain full mobility and I never had surgery. I know I'm one of the lucky few. My doctor explained that in my case, surgery may have made me worse. All I need to do, even now four years later, is continue the physical therapy exercises at home to preserve the mobility. It's different for everyone.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 03, 2015:

Eddy, I didn't know too much about it either before the surgery, but once it was scheduled it seemed anyone I talked to had had the surgery o9r knew someone who did. I appreciate your comments.

Eiddwen from Wales on December 30, 2014:

I knew nothing of this Pamela and found this hub very interesting. Thanks for sharing.


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 09, 2014:

Bdegiulio, I thought the same thing until it happened to me. Thanks so much for your comments.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on December 07, 2014:

Hi Pam. So sorry that you went through this. Sure sounds painful. I always thought rotator cuff injuries were due to an event, wasn't aware that wear and tear over time could also lead to surgery. This is good to know. I hope your recovery continues. Good to have you back.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 04, 2014:

DDE, You're right about the pain and I appreciate your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 04, 2014:

MsDora, Thanks so much for your comments. Hope you are enjoying this holiday season.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 04, 2014:

Hi Pamela99 pain can be most irritable. Hope all gets well with you. Thanks for sharing your experience in this you have enlightened us more about the actual problem.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 03, 2014:

Pamela, just reading the word "painful" makes me cringe. All the best going forward with your recovery. Thanks for educating us through your experience.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

AliciaC, I hope you are right. Thanks so much for your comments.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 03, 2014:

I am so sorry that you had to undergo surgery, Pamela, but I'm glad that things are starting to get better. Your hub will be very helpful for people in a similar situation. Best wishes as you continue to recover.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

Martie, Between the pain and the difficulty of sleeping with this surgery I just didn't feel up to even getting on the computer or doing anything. I am steadily recovery and appreciate your concern. Thanks for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

Ruby, I have had other surgeries and this one was more painful for sure. I'm glad that the pain is finally easing up. Thanks so much for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

Billy, This is a common surgery for baseball pitchers, so that may very well be true. I'm glad to be back and I appreciate your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

Shauna, I have less pain now than I did before the surgery, so I think it will be worthwhile overall. I appreciate your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

Jo, I knew nothing about what I was about to experience ahead of time, so I hopt this article does help someone that was in my position. Thanks for the welcome back and your comments. It is good to want to participate again!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

teamrn, I was told I have arthritis in the ball and socket joint of the shoulder and there is nothing the surgeon can do about that. I hope it doesn't lead to a joint replacement down the road, but it sounds like you are doing well overall. Thanks for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

Nell Rose, You may run across someone with this problem as it is quite common. I appreciate your comments and I'm glad to be back on Hubpages. I just didn't want to do anything for a while I think because of the pain and lack of sleep, but it is time to get my life back.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on December 03, 2014:

Pamela, I was wondering where you were, and so sorry to learn that you were coping with all of this painful consequences of osteoarthritis, which is also one of my 'crosses'. I hope your recovery will be 100%. Thank you so much for sharing all this useful information about rotator cuff surgery.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on December 03, 2014:

Hello Pam, I've been told by patients that rotator cuff surgery is really painful, so glad they took good care of you. Your hub is helpful and well written. Speedy recovery my friend...

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 03, 2014:

This surgery might have saved my baseball career, but they didn't do it back in 1970, so I'm left with a shoulder that doesn't quite work as well as the other one does. Good information here, and welcome back, Pamela.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on December 03, 2014:

Pamela, I'm glad you're recovering. The surgery sounds awful, but at least now you can find some relief.

Thank you for sharing and I pray for your continued progress.

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on December 03, 2014:

Pamela, great to see you back, so sorry about the shoulder. Having seen the video, you've certainly been through the wars, but it's good to know the pain is easing off and you feeling better. This is an informative and useful article, with over 200,000 surgery performed each year, many people will find your experience valuable. Voting up and awesome.

teamrn from Chicago on December 03, 2014:

I had shoulder surgery, although not a rotate cuff repair, a shoulder replacement. Is there scar tissue? I'm sure there is, but there isn't pain at rest or pain at movement which caused the tears and so much angst. Just, every now and then a dull ache which passes pretty quickly.

Nell Rose from England on December 03, 2014:

Hi Pamela, sorry to hear that you have been in pain, but glad its on the way to recovery now, I have never heard of this before, so its really going to be helpful for others too, take care, nell

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

RTalloni, I am sorry to hear of your medical problems. I was concerned about my healing due to being on prednisone for so many years, yet, it has not been a problem so far. I wonder about Cipro and I think the docs often don't really know. I know some people form scar tissue with shoulder surgery, which that makes healing slow and painful. I hope that is not your problem. Thanks so much for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 03, 2014:

Maria, Thank you so much for your kind comments. I am doing very well now, but the physical therapy is certainly the thing that makes the difference. I wish you a wonderful holiday season also. Love and hugs to you.

RTalloni on December 03, 2014:

So thankful you've been able to get help and that you are recovering. We live in amazing times to be able to benefit from research and the work of specialists! I hope you will post updates here in the coming months.

Due to side effects of Cipro (one of the flouroquinolone antibiotics) I've been working to heal from tendon damage in large and small joints. The medical professionals say it is rare for this to happen, but I'm beginning to think that they think it is rare because they dismiss patients complaints, but that's another story. My shoulder seems to be slowest to heal and I am wondering if I'll be facing treatment. Successful reports like yours are encouraging.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on December 02, 2014:

Dear Pamela,

So good to hear from you and sorry to hear about the pain you have been experiencing...

Once again, you have used your nursing experience to teach us all in this well-scribed post - balanced with your experiences and solid theory/ implications and strategies for dealing with rotator cuff pain / surgery.

You serve as a role model to us all on the importance of cooperation with physical therapy follow up after surgery.

All the best as you continue to improve, dear friend and wishing you a peaceful holiday season. Love and hugs, Maria

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