December 2, 2018/Exercise & Fitness

When Do Rotator Cuff Shoulder Injuries Absolutely Call for Surgery?

The Short Answer from an orthopedic surgeon

A caregiver measuring a woman's arm to assess her health and body measurements.

Q: When do rotator cuff injuries call for surgery?

A: The decision to have surgery for a rotator cuff injury is quite individual. In most cases, non-operative treatment will suffice.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

However, if the rotator cuff tear is complete, occurring after a traumatic injury in someone who is young and active, and if it results in loss of strength and mobility, then immediate rotator cuff repair is warranted (within three to four weeks).

Partial rotator cuff tears (and even some complete tears) often can be managed without surgery. Non-operative treatment consists of physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication and/or corticosteroid injections.

Remember to avoid overhead activities, which can exacerbate your pain.

Physical therapy involves working on range-of-motion exercises and strengthening both the rotator cuff muscles and other shoulder stabilizing muscles over three to six months.

Advertisement

Of course, shoulder pain does not necessarily mean a problem with the rotator cuff.

Other injuries that cause shoulder pain include:

  • Shoulder arthritis.
  • Adhesive capsulitis/frozen shoulder.
  • Biceps tendinitis.

Treatment for these problems also moves to surgery if conservative treatment fails.

There is a lot to consider when deciding what treatment is best for a rotator cuff injury. Have an open discussion with your doctor to decide about the optimal treatment.

Advertisement

— Kirk Haidet, MD, orthopaedic surgeon

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Children playing soccer, basketball and baseball in background with Atheltic cup in foreground.
April 13, 2023/Exercise & Fitness
Does Your Kid Need an Athletic Cup?

Protective equipment like sports cups can help avoid injury

Kid playing basketball with parent.
August 21, 2022/Heart Health
Can Kids Living With Heart Conditions Play Sports?

Each child and condition is unique, but most kids can play with proper precautions

man with shoulder pain in bedroom
December 14, 2021/Orthopaedics
How To Relieve Rotator Cuff Pain at Night

3 tips to help you sleep easier

Kinesio Tape knee osteoarthritis
Can Kinesio Tape Help with Osteoarthritis?

An expert explains the potential benefits

man with rotator cuff injury
December 29, 2020/Chronic Pain
How Can I Deal With Rotator Cuff Injuries If I’m Over 45?

The short answer from an orthopaedic sports medicine surgeon

How Small, Frequent Meals Can Help Athletes Keep Energy High
June 3, 2018/Exercise & Fitness
How Small, Frequent Meals Can Help Athletes Keep Energy High

Kick up your metabolism by strategic eating

The Best Fuel for Your Body Before Playing Sports
February 28, 2018/Exercise & Fitness
The Best Fuel for Your Body Before Playing Sports

Food can be an important part of your game plan

Person on scale, questioning muscle weight vs. fat weight
April 12, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
The Difference Between Muscle Weight vs. Fat Weight

Both are needed for a healthy body

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey

Ad