Rotator Cuff Surgery Overview


For patients requiring rotator cuff surgery, Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) provides access to world-class orthopaedic care and staff of experienced specialists dedicated to treating shoulder injuries. The BWH shoulder team collaborates with specialists in the Harvard Shoulder Service, Advanced Center for Cartilage Repair, Shoulder and Sports Injuries and Cartilage Repair Center to offer expert and innovative treatment for a broad spectrum of injuries and diseases affecting the shoulder, including treatment for impingement, joint replacement, tendon transfers, nerve injuries and labrum repair.

What is rotator cuff surgery?

Rotator cuff surgery is performed to repair a torn tendon in the shoulder. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint, enabling the shoulder in move in different directions. When overused or injured, tendons in the rotator cuff can tear and may require surgery to repair.

Rotator cuff surgery may be performed with an open incision or through minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery, in which a camera and suturing devices are inserted through small incisions. The goal of rotator cuff surgery is to attach the tendon back to the bone with sutures and small rivets called suture anchors. Rotator cuff surgery may also involve removing loose fragments of tendon and other debris from the space where the rotator cuff moves, and shaving bone or removing bone spurs from the point of the shoulder blade.

When is rotator cuff surgery needed?

A surgeon may consider rotator cuff surgery when the patient:

  • Has a large or complete tear of the rotator cuff.
  • Has shoulder pain when at rest or during the night, and which has not improve with exercise over six to 12 months.
  • Experiences a lot of weakness and is unable to perform everyday activities.
  • Is having difficulty using the shoulder for sports or work.

Some patients with a partial rotator cuff tear may choose to treat it with rest and exercise instead of surgery.

Recovery after rotator cuff surgery

Recovery from rotator cuff surgery may take three to six months, depending on the severity of the tear and other factors. Patients may need to wear a sling for four to six weeks, or wear a shoulder immobilizer that keeps the shoulder from moving during recovery. Physicians may prescribe a physical therapy to help regain motion and strength. Rotator cuff surgery is usually successful at relieving pain, but may not help return the shoulder to full strength.

Find a BWH doctor

To make an appointment with a BWH shoulder specialist, please call 1-800-294-9999 or use our online appointment request form.

You can also use the Find a Doctor feature on the BWH website to search for doctors by name and specialty. In addition to finding shoulder specialists, you can also find orthopaedic surgeons for carpal tunnel surgery or knee replacement surgery. You may also search by location to find, for example a Boston hand surgeon or a Boston knee surgeon.

Learn more about Rotator Cuff Surgery and other Orthopedic Treatments at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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