What is a rotator cuff repair?

The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that join at the top of the upper arm bone (humerus), connecting the arm to the shoulder blade. There are five muscles in the rotator cuff that allow the arm to move in different directions. Each of these muscles is connected to the arm bone by a tendon. Rotator cuff repair is the surgery used to repair an injury or tear in one of these tendons caused by inflammation due to overuse or repetitive stress, or sports injury.

What does treatment involve?

When the tendons in the rotator cuff are damaged, partially or completely torn, surgery may be needed to remove bone spurs and cartilage and to repair the tendon. Under general anaesthesia, Dr Heymans will make an incision into the top of the shoulder where the deltoid muscle covers the shoulder. To gain better access to the injured tendon, he will detach this muscle to expose the tendons underneath. After removing the loose bone fragments, the tendon is reattached to the muscle. In cases where the tendon is severely torn, a tendon transfer may be required. He will then take a piece of tendon from a surrounding tendon to repair the damaged one. This surgery may also be done arthroscopically.

What can I expect in terms of recovery?

You can expect some swelling, pain and stiffness in the shoulder and upper arm after a rotator cuff repair. You will have your arm placed in a sling for the next 6 weeks to immobilise the shoulder and allow the tissues to heal. After 6 weeks, the sling will be removed, and Dr Heymans will advise you to begin with physiotherapy to enhance the mobility and movement of the joint. This should help regain the strength of the shoulder. While recovery depends on the nature of the injury, recovery should take between 3 and 6 months.