Do I have to have surgery for my rotator cuff tear?
You may have recently been given a diagnosis of rotator cuff tear. Often, this can be given by a surgeon based on physical exam, a physical therapist based on your symptoms, or even based on imaging studies such as x-rays or MRI.
This diagnosis may lead to many questions for you.
Some patients think that just because rotator cuff tear is present, there is an immediate need for surgery. This is not actually true, as rotator cuff tears come in many different “flavors.” That is why it is very important to allow a shoulder expert like Dr. Johnny Nelson to examine your shoulder and discuss your unique situation with you.
It is important and helpful to look at the rotator cuff like a rope made out of a bunch of fibers. Some ropes are extremely new and extremely healthy, completely intact without any tearing or fraying. Other ropes may have some tearing and fraying of the fibers but overall remained intact. Then again other ropes may be completely torn, cut, or snapped and unable to be used.
The rotator cuff tendon is the same way.
Some patients have completely intact rotator cuff, with no tearing or fraying or even inflammation. Some patients have mild tearing of a few of the muscle and tendon fibers, while some patients have complete tears where the muscle is not connected to the bone.
We do have some evidence that smaller rotator cuff tears are less likely to become large tears, possibly scarring in place and healing. We also have evidence that large rotator cuff tears are more likely to get larger over time, and are less likely to be repairable the longer they are left without repair.
As a general rule, younger more active patients with more severe tears are more likely to be offered surgery and are more likely to respond well to that surgery. Patients with small tears are less likely to be offered surgery because there is evidence that these patients will often heal without surgery. However, even for small tears surgery is sometimes offered when treatments such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and injections do not bring lasting relief of their pain and weakness.
If you have been told that you have a rotator cuff tear, or if you have been told that you need surgery on your shoulder, do not hesitate to make a visit to see Dr. Johnny Nelson to discuss your shoulder.
Sometimes knowing is half the battle!