Rotator cuff repair

This information will help you gain the maximum benefit from your operation. It is not a substitute for professional medical care and should be used in conjunction with treatment at UHS. 

The shoulder

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. The joint is surrounded by a deep layer of tendons called the rotator cuff. When the arm is lifted up to the side or in front of the body, these rotator cuff tendons pass underneath a bony and ligamentous arch called the coracoacromial arch. These tendons, most commonly the supraspinatous tendon, can rub on the bone and the ligament of the arch, resulting in pain over the side of the upper arm called rotator cuff impingement syndrome. The tendon can become inflamed, thickened, painful and worn, and may even tear. This rubbing of the tendon can settle with time, rest, physiotherapy and cortisone injections.

Rotator cuff repair

The rotator cuff repair aims to reattach the tendons to the bone. Your rotator cuff repair can be performed either through a small open incision, approximately 3 to 5cm, or via keyhole surgery. This involves two or three smaller keyhole incisions. Sometimes the tear in the rotator cuff muscles is too big or too fragile to be repaired, and can only be repaired partially - or not at all.

If possible, the repair involves sewing the torn tendon into a groove on the top of the humeral head. The strength and size of the repair can vary; we can only give you a rough guide on this page. Please speak to the surgeon and physiotherapist to discuss your individual surgery after the operation.

Risks and complications

All operations involve some risk. The risks and complications after this procedure are small, but it is important to know what they are. Please make sure you discuss any concerns with the doctor or consultant.

Anaesthetic risks

There are very small risks with anaesthesia and these will be discussed with you by the anaesthetist on the day.

Surgical risks

There is a small risk of infection, probably less than 1%. There is a small risk of worse pain or stiffness around the shoulder, a frozen shoulder, occurring in about 1% of cases. There is a very small risk of damage to the nerves and blood vessels around the shoulder, occurring in less than 1% of cases. 

There is a 70 to 80% chance of improving the pain and range of movement following the rotator cuff repair, but approximately 10 to 20% of people still have persistent pain around the shoulder after the surgery.