Medical Monday: Facing rotator cuff surgery? Here's what you can expect

GREEN BAY, WIs. - Dr. Shawn Hennigan is an orthopedic surgeon with BayCare Clinic. He joined us on Wisconsin Tonight to talk about rotator cuff surgery. 

Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles – the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor – that come together as tendons surrounding the top of your humerus, the long arm bone that goes from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint. The rotator cuff attaches the humerus to the shoulder blade. The four muscles help you to lift and rotate your upper arm.

A rotator cuff injury occurs when there’s a tear in one or more of the rotator cuff tendons. When a tear occurs, the tendon is no longer fully attached to your humerus. The supraspinatus muscle is most commonly torn of the four muscles. Tears are typically caused by a sports-related injury, repeated lifting or reaching, or weakened 

• People over the age of 40. As you age, your tissue weakens, making you more prone to injuries.

• Athletes who use repetitive arm motions, especially baseball pitchers, archers and tennis players.

• Carpenters or other construction workers using repetitive arm motions, such as painting or heavy lifting.

• People who have torn their rotator cuff before. Once you tear it, scar tissue builds up in the torn area. The more scar tissue you have, the greater loss of motion in your shoulder.

Symptoms could include:

• A dull ache in the shoulder

• Pain while sleeping at night if you are lying on the affected shoulder

• Weakness when lifting or rotating your arm

• Difficulty combing your hair or reaching behind your back

• A feeling of something snapping or immediate weakness in your upper arm

Depending on the size of the tear, your doctor may recommend physical therapy, hot or cold packs or anti-inflammatory medications. If the tear is significant or you have been experiencing pain for long periods of time, surgery may be required.

If surgery is needed, we recommend an arthroscopic procedure, which is a minimally invasive surgery to repair shoulder problems. The surgery works best if it is done within a few weeks of the tear occurring. During surgery, small incisions are made to reattach the torn tendon to the bone. Arthroscopic surgeries result in less pain following the procedure, less time spent in the hospital for recovery, and quicker returns to work or sports.

In extreme cases (and larger tears), shoulder replacement may be required.

Recovery can vary from a few weeks to several months. The type of surgery performed and the size of the tear was will determine how long recovery will be and how soon you can go back to work or continue to play sports.

Patients may be asked to wear a sling for four to six weeks after surgery. Physical therapy is often recommended to help regain motion and strength in your shoulder.

For more information, visit or call Orthopedics & Sports Medicine BayCare Clinic at 877-229-2273.

Print this article Back to Top