Do I Need Surgery for a Torn or Damaged Rotator Cuff?
April 2023

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surrounds the shoulder joint, providing stability and enabling a wide range of shoulder movements. A torn or damaged rotator cuff can cause significant pain and weakness in the shoulder, limiting a person’s ability to perform daily activities and negatively affecting their quality of life.

If you have a torn or damaged rotator cuff, your injury may heal on its own with the proper care and treatment, or you may need surgery. While surgery may be necessary in some cases, it is nearly always preferable to exhaust non-invasive treatment and pain management strategies first.

Once your orthopaedist has made their diagnosis, they will review both non-surgical and surgical treatment options with you. Typically, they will recommend beginning with non-surgical treatment methods to see how your body responds. Surgery is usually only recommended if the pain and weakness in your shoulder does not improve with non-surgical treatment.

Active individuals, people with physically demanding careers and athletes (i.e., swimmers, pitchers, tennis players, etc.) who rely on the strength and stability of their rotator cuffs daily may prefer to undergo surgery if they wish to continue playing their sport, keep their career or don’t have the time to pursue less invasive treatment strategies.

The good news is there are many different treatment options available for a torn or damaged rotator cuff that don’t require going under the knife. For the average orthopaedic patient, these non-surgical treatments are nearly always preferable.  

Non-Surgical Treatment Options for a Torn or Damaged Rotator Cuff

In many cases, non-surgical treatment options can effectively relieve the pain and discomfort associated with a torn or damaged rotator cuff. The goal of non-surgical treatment is often two-fold – relieve pain and restore strength to the injured shoulder. Managing pain as soon as possible may allow patients to participate in rehabilitation strategies more fully.

If you have torn your rotator cuff, your doctor might recommend the following non-surgical treatment options:

  • Rest and activity modification Resting your shoulder and avoiding activities that aggravate your symptoms can help reduce pain and inflammation. Your doctor may recommend modifying your daily activities to reduce stress on your shoulder.
  • Physical therapy A physical therapist can develop a customized exercise program to help improve shoulder strength, flexibility and range of motion. Physical therapy can also help reduce pain and improve your overall function.
  • Medications Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Your doctor may also prescribe stronger pain medications or steroid (cortisone) injections to help provide temporary pain relief while you pursue physical therapy and other shoulder strengthening strategies.
  • Cold therapy Applying cold therapy to your shoulder can help reduce pain and inflammation. This is typically done using a cold therapy machine or ice packs.
  • Heat therapy Heat therapy can help improve circulation in your shoulder, promoting healing and reducing stiffness. This is typically done using a heating pad or warm towel.

Surgical Treatment Options

If non-surgical treatment options do not provide adequate relief or if your rotator cuff is severely torn, your orthopaedist may recommend surgery. Depending on your health and the specifics of your rotator cuff injury, you doctor may suggest one of the following surgical treatment options:

  1. Arthroscopic surgery Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that involves making small incisions in the shoulder and using a tiny camera and surgical instruments to repair the torn rotator cuff. This procedure is typically performed on an outpatient basis, and recovery time is usually shorter than with traditional open surgery.
  2. Open surgery Open surgery involves making a larger incision in the shoulder and repairing the torn rotator cuff using surgical instruments. This procedure may be necessary for more severe tears or if arthroscopic surgery is not feasible. Recovery time for open surgery is typically longer than for arthroscopic surgery.

When Is Surgery Necessary for a Torn Rotator Cuff?

Factors that influence whether surgery is a good or feasible option to treat a rotator cuff injury include your age, overall health and activity level — as well as the severity of the tear. In general, your doctor or orthopaedist may suggest surgery if:

  • Your symptoms do not improve with non-surgical treatment options
  • Your tear is large or complex
  • Your shoulder is significantly weak or has lost function
  • Your lifestyle involves engaging in activities that require a high level of shoulder function (i.e., athlete, emergency first responder, etc.)
  • Your young or particularly physically active and hope to avoid long-term weakness or disability

It is important to note that surgery is not always necessary and often not the ideal solution for a torn or damaged rotator cuff. Non-surgical treatment options can effectively relieve pain and improve shoulder function in most patients. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best treatment plan based on your individual needs and goals.

Torn Rotator Cuff? Non-Surgical Orthopaedics Can Help Get You on the Road to Recovery

Our dedicated orthopaedic specialists have extensive knowledge and experience in treating shoulder injuries like torn rotator cuffs. If you live near Carrollton or Marietta and are suffering from a shoulder injury, consider scheduling a consultation with one of our orthopaedists and pain management doctors.

At Non-Surgical Orthopaedics, we offer several minimally invasive and regenerative therapies designed to heal all types of musculoskeletal injuries, including rotator cuff tears. Our doctors can also administer steroid injections, help you develop and execute an effective physical therapy plan and recommend at-home exercises and stretches to strengthen the muscles in your shoulder.

If you’re looking for a personalized, non-surgical approach to your rotator cuff injury, call us today at 770-421-1420 or schedule an appointment online.