Question - Rotator Cuff Tear (surgery or not)

by Judy
(VA)

I have a small tear and impengment in my rotator cuff. It is painful to reach, push, pull, lift etc. Orthopedic doctor wants to do sugery but I've heard the surgery is very painful as far as the recovery. What would you recommend? How long would i be out of work?

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Jun 26, 2008
It was worth it for me
by: Karen - FL

Hi Judy,

I had almost a full thickness tear and a bone spur. Tears will not heal on their own and if you have a bone spur that contributed to the tear, you risk further injury. However, sometimes with physical therapy, the pain can lessen. My doctor tried physical therapy first. My pain did lessen, but worsened when I attempted to return to my normal activities....aerobics, etc. On a scale of 1-10, I averaged a 4 for pain on a daily basis, sometimes worse. Plus I had limited range of motion and strength. It was very irritating. Since I am only 50 and I am very active, I elected to have the surgery.

The surgery itself is not that painful. For me, sleeping was the toughest. However, within a few days, I was ok. I quickly switched from Percoset (strong narcotic) to Darvocet (not a narcotic). Although the physical therapy is painful, it gets better the more you do it. I had PT for 12 weeks starting immediately after surgery. How fast you progress in therapy is very individualized. I think that attitude has a lot to do with it. If you're willing to do what the therapist says, you will do great and recover more quickly and the pain will lessen faster.

I'm now 4 months out and only doing physical therapy on my own at home. On a scale of 1-10, my pain is a 1. Sometimes I don't even notice it. I have 95% of my range of motion back but am still pretty weak on that side, though improving steadily. I'm VERY glad I had the surgery and am committed to doing my physical therapy for as long as it takes to get back to normal....they say a minimum of 4-6 months or even up to a year. But it's worth it.

I'm not working now but depending on your job (if there's no lifting required), I know others who were able to go back after a few weeks. Physcial therapy is typically 2 or 3 times a week, 3 is better if your insurance will cover it. But that's an hour each visit so that may be an issue for your job. I hope this helps.

Good luck!

Jun 27, 2008
Great comments...
by: Bart - SII

Karen provides some great insight as someone who has been in the exact same position as you. She has first hand knowledge of the surgery and recovery - and is good proof that a successful recovery is possible.

Your limitations with daily activities due to pain are something that will probably continue to bother you and may get worse with time. I think that surgery is a good option, but would also recommend trying some conservative rehabilitation first - sometimes surgery can be put off or avoided with therapy. You never know until you try.

While the surgery is not a cake walk, with todays modern procedures and pain management, it is a moderately painful procedure, but the pain decreases quickly after the first 1-2 weeks. If you follow the prescribed rehabilitation following surgery, you should have a much better shoulder than you do right now.

As far as being off from work, it does depend on what kind of job you have. Most surgeons keep their patients in a sling and swath (or abduction pillow) for 4-6 weeks after surgery. You wouldn't be able to do any type of lifting for at least 6 weeks, and then after than, probably no more than a few pounds. If you have a desk type job that would allow you to work in a sling, you could return in as little as a week, depending on how you felt...

Hope this helps - comment back if you have other questions.

Jul 22, 2008
Judy in Va just had the rotator cuff surgery
by: Judy

Hi again, this is Judy in Va. I just had the rotator surgery last Wednesday. Day one of surgery, nerve block did not take so I didn't wake up pain free. Took Lortab every two hours thru the night and thru most of Thursday. Friday stopped meds. Saturday drove carefully to hair appt.just very sore. Sunday rested, Monday got bored, Tuesday returned to doc to get 6 stiches out and went to work for 6 hours. Still in sling when out and about and when sleeping for next 3 weeks. Then PT will start. Only doing pendulum exercise for now. Doc found 2 mucles torn in to and medium tear in rotator and shaved the bone some to have "more room". Have learned how to do alot with left hand ie lifting reaching pushing pulling for now. Will try to upate more later. Hope this gives insight to anyone considering this surgery.

Jan 19, 2010
Rehab
by: Dirk

Judy how easy was driving in a sling, and what type of sling was it? Did you need to sleep in a recliner and for how long? Thanx

Jul 13, 2010
Followup
by: Tim

I was in a sling for 8 weeks. Had a 1" tear in my rotator cuff. Recovery was very slow for me, but still definitely worth it. I was on percocet for 2 weeks straight gradually decreasing dosages starting around day 5, and then only at night to help sleep. It was probably about 6 weeks before I was off pain meds completely. I had to sleep in a recliner for the first 3 weeks, then propped up in bed with 4 pillows and then gradually worked my way flat on my back, but that probably took about 5 weeks to accomplish. Could start sleeping on my side at week 8, first for 10 mins at a time and then gradually working my way up. Probably took 12 weeks before I could sleep on my side for a few hours at a time. I was driving about 5 days after surgery, but I wasn't 100%. Checking blinds spots was difficult due to stiff neck and inability to twist torso quickly/very far.

Jan 02, 2011
Post-op pain 13 months out
by: Sleepy_in_Texas

I had arthoscopic, rotator cuff repair surgery 13 months ago and am still having to sleep in a recliner due to pain when lying down. Because my other, non operated shoulder is bad, sleeping in a bed on that side is not an option. When I try to sleep lying horizontally in bed, everything is fine for about 20 to 30 minutes, then the pain begins and gradually increases. The location of the pain is in the upper arm and is felt as a generalized ache. I've got a suspicion that the ache is related to nerve trauma somehow.

I will say that the pain is much less intense than it was early on (say 4 months post-0p) and that I can now lie down at smaller angles to horizontal than I could back then. Also, the pain at 5 months post-op seemed to involve more of the shoulder. Unfortunately, it seems I've reached a plateau in that I've seen no improvement in the last several months.

Am I alone in experiencing this and if not, how much longer can I expect this to be a problem?

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