6 Common Questions My Patients Frequently Ask about their Rotator Cuff Injuries

1. What is the rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that originate on the scapula (shoulder blade) and then attach to the top of the humerus (upper bone of the arm).

These 4 muscle help to initiate and coordinate the motion of the shoulder.


2. Do all rotator cuff injuries need surgery?

No, the vast majority of rotator cuff injuries can be treated with non-operative modalities such as therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and injections.


3. Do I need an MRI for my rotator cuff injury?

It depends. Most patients with a suspected rotator cuff injury on their first visit do not need an MRI.
Your orthopedic surgeon can determine by your physical exam if an MRI is needed.


4. What kind of rotator cuff injury may require surgery?

If you have not improved after a prolonged course of therapy, and now you have obtained an MRI of your shoulder.
If your rotator cuff tear is “full thickness.” Then usually this will require surgery.


5. Do I need a big open surgery to fix my rotator cuff?

No. In my practice all rotator cuff surgery is done arthroscopically.
This means a camera is used to see inside the shoulder and 3-4 small poke holes are made so small instruments can fit though. The repair can then be performed with minimally invasive techniques.


6. How long will it take to recover from my rotator cuff surgery?

This answer varies, but depending on the size of the tear you may not regain full function for up to 6 months.
However you will be in a sling for 4-6 weeks and begin therapy immediately.
If your work is not labor intensive you can expect to be back within 1-2 weeks.


7. What happens if I don’t have surgery on my rotator cuff?

If you have a painful rotator cuff tear and you have already gone through physical therapy and injections, without surgery your shoulder will continue to hurt.
If you have a large tear in your rotator cuff, your shoulder can lose motion over time as the nonfunctional tendons of the rotator cuff begin to atrophy.
Eventually the rotator cuff will become unable to repair and a replacement may be needed.

Dr. Michael Gott is a Westchester orthopedic surgeon who is fellowship trained in sports medicine. He has also been an active member of the National Ski Patrol as well as a Member of the Windham Mountain Ski Patrol for 18 years.