If you’re experiencing stiffness, loss of range of motion or pain in your upper shoulder, it may be time to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic physician; you may have an injured rotator cuff or labrum.

The rotator cuff is a set of muscles that keeps the arm in its socket. If it becomes damaged or torn completely, moving the arm becomes extremely difficult and painful. The ache associated with a torn rotator cuff can extend from the shoulder down to the elbow and sometimes cause neck pain and headaches. X-ray scans are necessary to rule out other issues like arthritis or fractures, and an MRI scan may be recommended because it will show the tissue of the rotator cuff itself.

Sometimes surgery is the only option to repair the damage, restore range of motion and stop the pain. However, surgery should only be considered after conventional methods have been exhausted, including rehabilitation or physical therapy and over-the-counter medications. A qualified orthopedic physician will be able to determine if surgery is the best course of action.

Rotator Cuff surgery

Surgically, there are a few options depending on the severity of the tear. If the rotator cuff is only partially torn, your orthopedic surgeon may opt to trim or smooth the tendon. However, if the tendon is completely detached, the surgeon can reattach it to bone or stitch the two sides back together. There two surgical procedures used for rotator cuff repair: open and arthroscopic.

Open repair is the traditional method but is typically used only if the tear is severe. Otherwise, the arthroscopic method, in which an incision is made and small surgical tools are used to repair the tendon, is used for tears that are less critical. This minimally invasive technique is often preferable because it allows for a quicker recovery rate and less risk of post-surgery infection.

Rehab & Recovery

Rehabilitation is extremely important for the rotator cuff and/or labrum to heal. However, the rehabilitation and recovery process varies from person to person and depends on a number of factors including age, health, and activity level. Typically the shoulder will be immobilized and in a sling for the first few weeks.

Afterward, physical therapy can be utilized to strengthen the arm for four to 12 weeks. If rehab is successful, you can expect normal function to return in four to six months. To gain the maximum positive effects of rehabilitation, it’s important to discuss and follow the plan outlined by your doctor.

Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons, as well as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, are qualified to assess your shoulder pain. If you suspect that you’ve torn or injured your rotator cuff, please contact Longstreet Clinic Orthopedics at 678-207- 4100 or contact us online.

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