When it comes to treating shoulder injuries, patients are usually presented with non-surgical options first. This is because surgery on the shoulder can be quite complex; meaning a lengthy recovery time and potential risks and complications. However, in some cases, surgery cannot be avoided.
Rotator cuff injuries can be particularly tricky to repair. Therefore, depending upon their severity, surgery may be the only treatment option available. Here, we’ll look at when surgery is normally recommended for rotator cuff injuries.
Understanding the severity of the injury
One of the major factors which determine whether shoulder surgery is required for rotator cuff injuries is the severity of the injury itself. If the patient is suffering from a partial tear or a small full thickness tear, this may be monitored and treated non-surgically, through physiotherapy or non-invasive treatment options. The age of the patient is a factor in decision making, as it is known that the natural history of tendon tears is that they progress in size.
If the problem is a full tear, and particularly if the patient is considered to be young, surgery is generally the best treatment option. It is highly unusual for rotator cuff tears to heal themselves. So, the surgeon will always look at the severity of the tear before deciding whether or not surgery is the best way forward.
Extreme pain and loss of motion
Another factor to consider is how much pain and loss of motion the patient is experiencing. Pain levels can be hard to monitor in patients, as each individual has a differing pain threshold. However, if it is causing significant pain, obviously it is within the patient’s best interest to treat it as quickly as possible. High levels of pain can also make alternative treatment options more difficult, such as physiotherapy.
Similarly, if there is a loss of motion which cannot be improved via physiotherapy or minimally invasive treatments, surgery would be required. Leaving the injury untreated when it’s causing a loss of motion, could lead to further degeneration of the shoulder, such as muscle loss.
Lifestyle considerations also need to be taken into account when coming up with the best treatment plan. If the rotator cuff tear is moderate to severe and it’s causing issues for patients not being able to carry out daily tasks, surgery may be essential.
For those with fairly inactive lifestyles, provided the pain isn’t too unbearable, they may be able to benefit from a non-surgical approach. However, for those with an active lifestyle, particularly athletes, getting back into the sport they love is essential, so surgery could be the best treatment choice for those who require full shoulder fitness in everyday life.
To find out what your best treatment options are, it is important to undergo a consultation with an experienced shoulder specialist. The sooner patients seek treatment for rotator cuff injuries, the more likely it is they will be able to benefit from non-surgical treatment, depending upon the severity of the injury.