Rotator Cuff Repair

What is the rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons that hold the arm in its joint and assist in shoulder movement.

What is a rotator cuff tear?

Rotator cuff tears are a common cause of pain and disability. A tear weakens the shoulder causing even normal activities to become too painful and challenging to do.

Tears can be partial or full.

A partial tear damages the soft tissues but does not sever the tendon. If a partial tear in the tendon is not repaired, it can fray and cause further damage to the area. As damage increases, the tendon can completely tear.

A full tear or complete tear creates a split in the tissue and results in disability.

Causes of rotator cuff tears.

Acute or sudden tears are the result of falls and direct injuries to the shoulder. Degenerative tears result from slow degeneration of the joint, due to repetitive stress and overuse, or wear and tear degeneration that causes weakness and pain.

Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear

Pain in the shoulder at rest and at night, and weakness when rotating or lifting the arm. Sometimes there will be a cracking feeling when moving the shoulder.

When Is Surgery Necessary?

There are multiple reasons that rotator cuff surgery may become necessary.  During a consultation with Dr. Walter A. Thomas, MD will explain to patients the reasons to consider surgery, including:

  • Shoulder pain at night and at rest that fails to improve with conservative measure including physical therapy for 6-12-months.
  • A large or complete rotator cuff tear that a causes pain and disability.
  • For active patients who desire to regain function for work and play.
  • When the shoulder is so weakened that daily activities are impossible.

What is rotator cuff repair?

Rotator cuff repair is surgery to fix the torn shoulder tendon. The surgery is designed repair the tear, improve mobility, relieve pain, and allow you to get back to your life.

A rotator cuff tear will not heal by itself. Pain can be managed, and physical therapy can improve shoulder strength, but movement will be restricted. However, many people can recover from rotator cuff injuries without surgery with activity modification, medication, physical therapy and steroid injections.

But when the tear is large or causes significant loss of function, surgery will be needed.

Surgery is usually recommended when conservative treatment fails to improve pain. It is also recommended when the patient is active and uses the arm for overhead work or play.

Rotator cuff surgery

Surgery can be open, or arthroscopic. The severity of the tear and loss of function wil determine the best type of repair for each patient.

Open repair is generally used for complex tears and requires a long incision.

Arthroscopic surgery uses small, keyhole incisions to access the joint and repair the injury. It uses a small camera to examine the joint and fix the tear, and is usually done on an outpatient basis.

Rotator cuff surgery may include:

  • Debridement of tissue and bone fragments
  • To stop the cuff from being pinched or irritated, more room for the rotator cuff tendon may be required. Bone may need to be shaved down, and bone spurs may need to be removed from the shoulder blade.
  • The sewing of the torn edges of the supraspinatus tendon together and to the top of the humerus.


Recovery from rotator cuff surgery can take 6-12 months and requires a commitment to physical therapy, in order to regain function and strength.

Your physician will review your individual case history to determine the surgical procedure that is right for you.

Dr. Walter A. Thomas is an orthopedic surgeon devoted to your care and treatment. He is the official doctor to the US Olympic Water Polo Team and the USA Taekwondo team. His passion is to get you back to your passion, sports and health. Dr. Thomas treats patients of all ages.

Rotator cuff surgery has helped patients find relief from shoulder pain, and regain strength function. In Thousand Oaks, California, Dr. Walter A. Thomas is the right choice for rotator cuff treatment.