I injured my rotator cuff years ago. I probably tore it more than once as it was healing. My surgeon has suggested doing a procedure to repair the damage and restore some function in that arm. I'd be happy just to have less pain at night. I know they can do these operations now without even opening you up. Do you think I can have that kind of surgery?
You may be referring to an arthroscopic procedure. The surgeon makes two or three puncture holes and slips a long, thin needle into the damaged area. A tiny TV camera on the end of the scope provides a look inside the joint. The type and location of tendon damage can be assessed using this technique.
But an open repair has some advantages. In this procedure, the surgeon can see the full extent of any damage. Details of the injury are clear and nothing is missed. Results are actually better after open repair compared to arthroscopic repair. There are fewer retears after open repair.
The main disadvantage of the open repair is that the deltoid muscle is split in half to give the surgeon access to the shoulder. The muscle is sewn back together afterwards, but it leaves the arm at a mechanical disadvantage until healing and full recovery take place.
Some surgeons begin with an arthroscopic examination. If the injury can be repaired arthroscopically, then they go ahead and complete the operation. But if the damage is extensive, then the shoulder can be opened up and the procedure completed.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help in the decision-making process. The MRI helps the surgeon assess tendon damage, healing, and anatomy. Size and location of the tear can be established. It can be determined whether the tear is partial or full-thickness. This makes a big difference in planning the surgical repair.
Yong Girl Rhee, MD, et al. Bridging the Gap in Immobile Massive Rotator Cuff Tears. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. August 2008. Vol. 36. No. 8. Pp. 1511-1518.
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