Rotator Cuff Surgery: Preparation, Procedure, and Recovery | PreferredMD
Orthopedic Surgery

Rotator Cuff Surgery: Preparation, Procedure, and Recovery

Procedure • By Biraj Patel

A rotator cuff repair surgery is a surgical procedure performed to mend a torn or damaged rotator cuff in the shoulder. 

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, providing stability and facilitating various arm movements. When one or more of these tendons become torn or damaged, it can result in pain, weakness, and limited shoulder mobility.

Hence, the primary goal of rotator cuff surgery is to restore the torn or damaged tendons to their normal position and function, allowing the patient to regain strength and mobility in the shoulder. 

When not to have rotator cuff surgery

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of the procedure itself, let's address an important question: when should you not have rotator cuff surgery?

If your rotator cuff tear is small and not causing significant pain or functional limitations, your doctor may recommend conservative treatments such as physical therapy, rest, and anti-inflammatory medications. Surgery should be reserved for cases where non-surgical approaches haven't yielded positive results or when the tear is large and severely impacting your daily life.

How long does it take for a torn rotator cuff to heal without surgery?

Healing a torn rotator cuff without surgery is possible, but it's a slow process. On average, it can take several months to a year or more for a small tear to heal naturally, depending on factors like the tear's size and your commitment to rehabilitation exercises.

Preparing for rotator cuff surgery

So, you've decided that surgery is the right path for you. Here's what you can expect in terms of preparation.


First, you'll consult with your orthopedic surgeon, who will assess your condition and discuss the procedure's details.

Medical evaluation

You may undergo various medical tests, such as X-rays or MRI scans, to provide a detailed view of the injury.


Before the surgery, you'll discuss anesthesia options with your medical team. Most rotator cuff surgeries are performed under general anesthesia.

Surgical consent

You'll sign a consent form, acknowledging that you understand the risks and benefits of the surgery.

How is rotator cuff surgery performed?

Rotator cuff surgery can be approached in several ways, but the most common method is arthroscopic surgery. 

During the procedure:

  • Small incisions are made around the shoulder.
  • A tiny camera, called an arthroscope, is inserted to provide a clear view of the damaged tissue.
  • Specialized instruments are used to repair the torn tendon.

What are the 3 types of rotator cuff repair?

There are three common types of rotator cuff repair.

Open repair

This traditional method involves a larger incision to access and repair the damaged tissue.

Arthroscopic repair

As mentioned earlier, this minimally invasive approach utilizes small incisions and a camera to guide the surgeon.

Mini-open repair

A combination of both open and arthroscopic techniques, offering the benefits of both approaches.

Is rotator cuff surgery a major surgery?

While rotator cuff surgery is not as extensive as some other orthopedic procedures, it is considered a significant surgery due to the intricate nature of the shoulder joint and the recovery involved.

How painful is rotator cuff repair surgery?

Pain levels can vary from person to person, but your surgeon will prescribe pain medication to keep you comfortable during the initial recovery period. The pain typically lessens as the weeks go by.

Rotator cuff surgery recovery and post-operative care

After rotator cuff surgery, the initial two weeks are crucial for the healing process. You can expect:

  • Pain management: Pain is common initially, but your surgeon will prescribe medications to help you manage it.
  • Immobilization: Your arm may be placed in a sling to immobilize the shoulder, allowing the repair to heal.
  • Physical therapy: You'll start gentle physical therapy exercises to prevent stiffness and regain strength.

How long is recovery from rotator cuff surgery?

Recovery time can vary depending on the extent of the tear and the surgical technique used. On average, it takes about 4 to 6 months to regain full function and up to a year for complete recovery.

Discuss rotator cuff surgery with the best orthopedic surgeons on PreferredMD

Rotator cuff surgery is a valuable option for those suffering from severe cuff tears that impact their quality of life. However, it's essential to consider non-surgical options and consult with a qualified orthopedic surgeon before making a decision.

Remember that the road to recovery may be challenging, but with dedication to physical therapy and proper post-operative care, you can regain strength and functionality in your shoulder. 

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