The 411 on rotator cuff surgery
Al Roker, the lighthearted weatherman on NBC’s Today Show, recently underwent rotator cuff surgery. His quick return to the show and shoulder sling has brought a lot of attention and questions about the condition, surgery and recovery.
Here’s what you should know about this common shoulder injury.
Just how common
Roker’s condition, a torn rotator cuff (and bicep reattachment), is one of the most common shoulder ailments I see in my practice. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, more than half of all visits to physician offices for shoulder problems are for rotator cuff issues.
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that work together to give the shoulder stability and help control the joint during rotation. As a person ages, the tendons in the shoulder weaken, thereby increasing the chance of injury. Problems with the rotator cuff muscles and tendons can lead to chronic shoulder pain and disability.
Causes of shoulder injuries
To many people’s surprise, most shoulder injuries are not caused by a specific incident. These injuries typically develop over time from performing a repetitive motion such as playing tennis, throwing a ball, painting or doing yard work. Age is also a significant factor. As we age, the tendons of the shoulder weaken and years of wear and tear make us more susceptible to injuries. Rotator cuff tears, for instance, are much more likely to occur after the age of 40. Many times, people try to work through the pain, causing further damage.
Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear:
- Dull ache deep in the shoulder
- Pain running down the side of the arm (including the elbow and forearm)
- Difficulty sleeping (due to pain)
- Arm weakness
- Pain when combing hair or reaching backwards
- Inability to lift the arm above the head
- Loss of motion
- Feeling like the shoulder is slipping out of place
The good news is the vast majority of shoulder issues can be resolved using conservative (non-operative) treatments such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatories (Advil®, Tylenol®, Aleve®) or injections. When surgery is the only option, significant advancements have been made in minimally invasive shoulder surgery. Procedures that once required large “open” incisions are now performed though tiny incisions using an arthroscope. To patients, this means less time under anesthesia, no overnight stay, shorter recovery times and improved results.
If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, get it checked. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to a fast recovery and return to a pain-free lifestyle.
About the Author
James R. Seeds, MD, is an Orthopedic Surgeon at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, and a partner at the Midwest Bone & Joint Institute (Algonquin, Barrington, Elgin and Geneva). He earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, completed his residency at the Hamot Medical Center in Erie, PA, and fellowship at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, AL. Dr. Seeds holds a double board certification in both Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine.