The rotator cuff is the group of tendons in the shoulder joint that provide support and enable wider range of motion. Major injury to these tendons can cause a rotator cuff tear, which is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain in middle-aged adults and older individuals. Repeated overhead activities, sports or motor vehicle accidents can cause a rotator cuff tear. Symptoms include severe pain, weakness of the arm, and crackling sensation when moving the shoulder in certain positions. There may be stiffness, swelling, loss of movements, and tenderness in the front of the shoulder.
A rotator cuff tear is best viewed on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Symptomatic relief may be obtained with conservative treatments, such as rest, a shoulder sling, pain medications, steroidal injections or certain exercises. However, surgery is required to fix the tendon back to the shoulder bone.
Surgery to repair the rotator cuff was traditionally performed through a large, 6-10cm long shoulder incision, and the muscle over the rotator cuff was separated. Newer advanced surgical techniques have been developed to minimize pain and recovery time. Arthroscopic rotator cuff repair is a minimally invasive surgery performed through tiny incisions, about 1 cm each, with an arthroscope.
The arthroscope is a small fiber-optic viewing instrument made up of a tiny lens, light source and video camera. The surgical instruments used in arthroscopic surgery are very small (only 3 or 4 mm in diameter) but appear much larger when viewed through an arthroscope.
The television camera attached to the arthroscope displays the image of the joint on a television screen, allowing the surgeon to look throughout the shoulder at cartilage, ligaments, and the rotator cuff. The surgeon can determine the amount or type of injury, and then repair or correct the problem.
The benefits of arthroscopy compared to open shoulder surgery, include:
- Smaller incisions
- Minimal soft tissue trauma
- Less pain
- Faster healing time
- Lower infection rate
- Less scarring
- Earlier mobilization
- Usually performed as outpatient day surgery