Is shoulder surgery the best option for older athletes?
New research suggests that senior citizens may benefit more from surgery than from simply modifying their activities.
A study recently presented to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine followed the progress of 49 athletes (including 33 men and 11 women with an average age of 73) after their rotator cuff repair surgery. Seventy-seven percent of them returned to doing activities with improved function and reduced pain, according to the research.
“Unfortunately, I often find that people put off seeing an orthopedic specialist because their shoulder pain may lessen, but that’s usually because they have modified their activity,” says Dr. Steven Chudik, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “Rotator cuff tears do not heal, but rather they tend to get larger with time. If left untreated, the cuff tear may become irreparable. This new research confirms there is no age limit for rotator cuff repair surgery, provided the tendon is repairable.”
The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles and tendons that help hold the head of the humerus in the shoulder socket. It enables arm movement for activities such as reaching, lifting and throwing. A rotator cuff tear occurs from an injury, such as a fall, or with time from overuse or aging.
Surgery can be performed through an open-incision procedure, or arthroscopically, using several tiny incisions, instruments and a camera to repair the tear. Regardless of the surgical procedure used, return to full activity usually requires six weeks in a sling followed by four to six months of physical therapy, says Dr. Chudik.
Before rushing into surgery, older athletes need to understand the surgical details of the procedure and the rehabilitation commitment that is required for a successful outcome. Dr. Chudik also recommends that patients find an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in arthroscopic rotator cuff repairs to confirm the diagnosis and to develop a treatment and rehabilitation plan.
“My advice: don’t wait to have your shoulder pain checked. You want to be able to enjoy your golden years,” Dr. Chudik says.
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