Every year, about 2 million Americans seek medical treatment for rotator cuff tears, shoulder injuries that cause pain and shoulder stiffness.
Conservative treatment, like rest or physical therapy, works for some mild tears, but other injuries require surgery to repair the joint and restore normal function.
At Orange Orthopaedic Associates, board-certified orthopedic surgeon James M. Lee Jr, MD, offers state-of-the-art treatment for rotator cuff injuries including advanced arthroscopic repair. Here’s how arthroscopic surgery could help repair your shoulder injury.
Rotator cuff injuries: The basics
The shoulder joint forms where the rounded end of your upper arm bone fits into a cup-shaped concavity (or socket) in your shoulder bone. The rotator cuff is a collection of tendons and muscles that hold the joint together and help it move and function.
You can injure a rotator cuff when you fall on an outstretched arm. But most often, this injury happens over time as a result of repetitive use, including jobs, sports, and other activities during which you swing your arm, lift items over your head, or throw.
These injuries cause tiny tears in your muscles or tendons (or both), along with irritation and inflammation inside and around the joint. Most people with rotator cuff injuries have shoulder pain, stiffness, and decreased range of joint movement. You might notice a grating or crackling sensation when you raise or swing your arm.
We can treat mild rotator cuff injuries conservatively with rest, medication, and other nonsurgical options.
More serious or complex injuries require surgery to repair damaged tissues and restore joint function. Traditional surgery requires a large incision, but Dr. Lee can use arthroscopy with just 2-3 tiny incisions.
Benefits of arthroscopic repair
Arthroscopic rotator cuff repair uses a thin, flexible instrument called an arthroscope that’s equipped with a tiny camera. Dr. Lee inserts the scope through a tiny incision, then the camera sends images to a monitor, eliminating the need for a bigger incision.
The arthroscopic technique — especially its use of tiny incisions — offers several benefits for patients, including the five listed below.
Less tissue damage
Traditional surgery uses larger incisions — not just through your skin, but often through muscles and other tissues. These incisions enable the surgeon to view the shoulder joint and perform repairs.
But arthroscopy uses tiny incisions and techniques that spare muscles and other tissues. Instead, the tiny camera mounted on the instrument allows the surgeon to view the surgical site and perform repairs without larger incisions.
Less tissue damage also means it takes less time for your surgical site and shoulder to recover. With arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, you can get back to the activities you enjoy even faster. Your course of physical therapy also typically takes less time.
Less discomfort during healing
One of the biggest concerns people have about undergoing any type of surgery is what to expect during recovery — specifically, whether they’ll have a lot of discomfort. With any type of surgery — open or arthroscopic procedures — some degree of discomfort is normal.
After all, surgical procedures do cause some degree of tissue damage that needs to heal afterward. But because of its small incisions and special, tissue-sparing techniques, you can expect your recovery to be more comfortable with arthroscopic surgery compared with traditional, open techniques.
Advances in surgical techniques mean the risk of complications is minimal, regardless of the surgical approach. But with larger incisions and more tissue damage, the risk of complications — including infections — increases.
Arthroscopy decreases the risks of infections and other complications, for worry-free healing and greater peace of mind.
Clothing often covers shoulder scars, but scars aren't just about aesthetics. Sometimes, scar tissue causes binding and other problems with healing and joint function. Arthroscopy incisions are tiny, and that means less scar tissue formation overall.
Find relief for your shoulder pain
Arthroscopic surgery can be an ideal option for many patients, but sometimes, open surgery is a better choice. Dr. Lee determines which approach is better for you based on your specific needs.
To learn more about rotator cuff injuries and how Dr. Lee can help relieve your shoulder pain, book an appointment online or over the phone today. Our Orange Orthopaedic Associates offices are in West Orange and Bayonne, New Jersey.