Today I was asked twice if I needed to repair a patient’s rotator cuff tear.  The answer is not the same for everyone !


Rotator cuff tears are extremely common in patients over 60, and the incidence increases as we all age.  This happens as tendons in our bodies tend to become more brittle over time, losing their normal ‘stretchiness’ or elasticity.  Tears can occur with lifting heavy objects, injuries to the shoulder, or a result of progressive damage to the tendon with time.

The usual symptoms with tears are shoulder pain with activities, pain at night, limited range of motion and weakness.  Not all tears are the same, so it is hard to compare with a friend who said their had a tear in their shoulder.

Tears, unlike pregnancy, are not ‘all or none’.  A tear of a tendon in a shoulder can start small, and get bigger with time and activity.  A small tear may only lead to occasional pain.  As it gets bigger, there may be more a sense of weakness, limited range of motion, and increased pain.

There is no hard rule for who needs to have surgery, but understanding the patient and their lifestyle has a guiding hand in making the right decision.  In some cases, it is best to learn to live with it, and work around the pain.  For many, this is not a reasonable option and repairing the tendon is the best choice to restore strength and eliminate pain.  Repair can be done either through small stab incisions using arthroscopic techniques or with a very small incision.  The only way to know for sure is to see your orthopedic surgeon and get a good opinion on what the next step should me.

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