Rotator Cuff Tear
- Acute tear – these happen suddenly as a result of a fall or trauma causing the tendon to pull off the bone or tear within its substance. This can be a complication of shoulder dislocations and other injuries.
- Degenerate tear – these happen as a result of age and activity related wear and tear, especially where there have been spurs of bone catching on the tendons. Sometimes a fairly innocuous event can be the final straw that leads to a tear in a weakened worn tendon.
Some rotator cuff tears occur as a normal part of ageing and remain symptom free. Those tears that occur after an accident or a fall tend to be very painful over the top and outside part of the shoulder. Movement makes the pain worse and some activities are no longer possible due to the pain. It is not uncommon to experience weakness on certain movements, especially when trying to lift the arm up, or perform activities over shoulder height.
Degenerate rotator cuff tears often occur on a background of niggling and discomfort that could have been present for months or years. Pain is often associated with certain movements. Weakness is often felt with tasks above shoulder height and strenuous activities, such as gardening or sports. Pain from both types of tears can disturb your sleep, especially when lying on the affected side. Clicking and cracking may be a feature of a rotator cuff tear, although pain-free clicking can occur in normal shoulders.
How are rotator cuff tears diagnosed?Diagnosing a rotator cuff tear requires a careful questioning about any accidents or events that may have brought on the symptoms. The location and timing of the pain can give clues as to any underlying damage as well as any weakness noticed. A thorough examination testing all the muscles and tendons will often raise suspicions of a cuff injury.
When a tear is suspected, an X-ray can reveal any bone spurs or signs of arthritis. The best way to look at the tendons is through ultrasound or MRI scanning. These scans will better assess the tendons and soft tissues for any tears and muscle loss.
How are they treated?Many rotator cuff tears are asymptomatic and cause no problems. As such it is perfectly reasonable to "keep an eye on these" and not intervene unless pain or weakness arise. Rotator cuff tears will not heal on their own, but in many cases the tear will cause minimal symptoms, which can improve with simple measures.
For chronic and degenerate tears, rest, painkillers and physiotherapy can be very effective in managing symptoms. If, however, the patient has lost strength, has had symptoms for over six months, or has a large tear then it is worth discussing those issues with regard to further treatment options.
For acute rotator cuff tears in higher-demand or younger individuals, such as people involved in heavy manual jobs, overhead occupations (joiners, electricians etc), and sportsmen, it is worth considering surgical repair. In these cases a better healing rate is seen if the tears are repaired early and before they can extend and get bigger.
What does surgery involve?The surgery can be done entirely using the latest keyhole techniques. It does, however, require either general anaesthesia (asleep) or a nerve block (awake while the shoulder and arm are temporarily made numb for several hours). Three to four small incisions are required to introduce the camera and instruments into the shoulder. A complete examination of the entire shoulder is made prior to repairing the torn tendons. The tendons are fixed back to the bone using special anchors, which are inserted inside the bone of the humerus. Any other abnormalities can be dealt with at the same time, such as shaving away any spurs of bone or dealing with other damaged tendons.
The surgery takes approximately 40 to 60 minutes. It is normal to be able to leave hospital on the same day of the surgery. If small stitches are inserted, the nurse at your local GP practice at can remove these around 10 days post surgery.
What are the potential complications?Complications from this type of surgery are uncommon but include pain and stiffness (in 5% of cases). These generally improve over the course of time. Re-tears of the tendon can occur, particularly if the tendon is very worn. These are more likely to happen with advancing age and in those who smoke or have diabetes, or in the case of massive retracted tears. Rare complications include infection, blood clots in the legs or lungs, nerve injuries and strokes.
What rehabilitation is necessary after surgery?It takes a minimum of three months for the rotator cuff to heal back to the bone of the humerus. As such, the arm would be immobilised in a sling for the first three to six weeks.
Physiotherapy is absolutely essential during the rehab period to help minimise the chances of stiffness, but it is important to undertake only the exercises prescribed to avoid doing any damage to the underlying repair. Overdoing things in the first six to twelve weeks post surgery is a potential cause for damaging the repaired tendon.
Partial thickness rotator cuff tear
Arthroscopic view of supraspinatus rotator cuff tear
Bone anchor insertion during rotator cuff repair
Double row rotator cuff repair
Repaired rotator cuff tear
A big thank you to Simon and his team for their care, patience and perseverence looking after me through all stages of both shoulder and elbow surgery.
Since the shoulder stabilisation I have continued my sailing and fitness training without the worry that my shoulder might dislocate; and I don’t have to think twice whether my ulnar nerve will hinder any progression in my sports.
With their amazing help, I’ve been able to get back to sailing competatively and am now a double National champion.
After multiple shoulder dislocations Charlie helped me set a route for recovery, which has been nothing but smooth sailing. Surgery went successfully and I am well on my way to playing the sports I was previously. Would highly recommend.
Simon successfully operated on my frozen left shoulder in 2012 with fantastic results. This year he has overseen and advised treatment for my frozen right shoulder (via hydrodilation injection). His unrivalled experience in orthopaedic shoulder treatments, coupled with his reassuring bedside manner and excellent results, gave me huge confidence throughout. I’m hugely grateful to have my quality of life back and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend his services. Thank you Simon.
I had suffered with a painful shoulder and pins and needles for three years following a right shoulder fracture and failed half joint replacement prior to meeting Mr Pennington. He explained the situation in a way I could relate to and I’m delighted to say my revision shoulder replacement has gone well and for the first time in years I can use my arm and am pain free. I was even able to walk my daughter down the aisle 3 months after surgery! Many thanks.
I would like to thank Charlie Talbot and his team for the operations performed on both my shoulders and also the aftercare put in place after my operations. I have played golf since I was 12 years of age and thought at one point that I would never get back to playing again. Charlie was always very positive and told me that he would get me playing golf again. Well, I have now been playing golf for nearly 2 years. Before surgery I had a handicap of 12 and I am now down to 9, not bad at the age of 68. So many many thanks.
I had PRP injections into my right elbow last year and within 3 months I was pain free, a year on it is more or less 100% better. Fabulous I would recommend it to anyone with Tennis Elbow, in fact I have gone back again this year to get my left elbow done. Thanks Simon.
Mr Pennington I really wanted you to know how very thankful I am for the excellent care & treatment you and your staff gave me. It really meant a lot that you were so clear, friendly & professional and listened to me – so thank you again.
After more than four decades of shoulder problems with a total of three surgeries the full shoulder replacement surgery by Mr. Talbot has changed my life beyond expectations. I am now able bodied for the first time in years and pain free.
Thank you to Mr Boyle and team for the excellent care and attention both before and after Replacement Shoulder surgery, using the Tornier Simpliciti procedure. After very many months of severe pain and lack of movement I was pain free from day one. Now, after nine weeks, the shoulder and arm movement continues to improve, beyond expectation, with physiotherapy and exercise. I am extremely grateful for all the continuing care.
Following two years of recurrent problems with my left shoulder I was recommendedto Consult Mr Neil Pennington. I had the opportunity to have my surgery quickly and at my convenience, this fitted well around my professional and home commitments. The surgery was carried out as a day case procedure and Mr Pennington visited me following the surgery to explain everything. My operation was a minimally invasive procedure so my recovery was straightforward with only a few restrictions; in fact I was encouraged to keep my shoulder moving. I was driving and back to work after 2 weeks – after 2 years of pain and sleep disturbance I found this operation to be life changing! I found Mr Pennington to be a very professional and compassionate surgeon and he is surrounded by a whole team of professionals that gave me the utmost confidence in the care and treatment I received.
I would like to thank Mr. Talbot and the amazing team of nurses, physiotherapists and support staff for their care and support during my recent visit to the Duchy Hospital, Harrogate, for a replacement shoulder. The care and attention I received was unparalleled. The pain free movement I now have has changed my life.