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Shoulder Surgery & Torn Rotator Cuff Arthroscopy

Why Is Shoulder Arthroscopy Performed?

If you have experienced injury, loss of function or worsening pain in your shoulder, your physician may recommend a shoulder arthroscopy procedure. Because many bones, ligaments and tendons compose the shoulder joint, your physician may require more invasive means to visualize the internal structures in your shoulder.

Shoulder arthroscopy may be performed if your physician has diagnosed you with one of the following conditions:

  • Arthritis-related joint inflammation
  • Bone spur or inflammation around the rotator cuff
  • Frozen shoulder, a condition where the shoulder becomes tightened and mobility is limited
  • Loose tissue
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome, where the muscles composing your rotator cuff become stuck underneath the shoulder joint
  • Shoulder instability, where your shoulder joint constantly pops in and out of place
  • Torn or damaged biceps tendon
  • Torn or damaged labrum (ring of cartilage around your shoulder) or ligaments
  • Torn rotator cuff

Shoulder Arthroscopy Procedure

Shoulder arthroscopy is performed utilizing general anesthesia. This means you will be placed in a deep sleep during surgery and will not feel pain during the procedure. Once you are asleep, your surgeon will make an incision in your arm and insert an arthroscope into this small incision. An arthroscope is a thin, flexible tube that has a camera on the end of it. This arthroscope can help your surgeon visualize the inside of your shoulder without having to make a large incision.

Your surgeon will move the arthroscope, searching for areas that may appear particularly damaged. The approach your physician takes next depends upon what he sees.

  • A muscle, tendon or cartilage tear can be repaired. Your surgeon will make further small incisions and insert long, thin instruments into the incisions to repair tissue. Damaged or deadened tissue may be removed as well.
  • A torn rotator cuff can be repaired by re-attaching your rotator cuff tendons to the shoulder joint. Your surgeon may apply special sutures to ensure the tendons maintain their position in the shoulder joint. If needed, specialized anchoring pieces made from metal or plastic may be applied.
  • Impinged muscles can be corrected by first removing any diseased or damaged tissue, cutting the coracoacromial ligament that may be causing the impingement and shaving off bone or a piece of bone spur.
  • A torn labrum can potentially be repaired by re-attaching labrum cartilage and surrounding ligaments to the shoulder.


If your surgeon finds a significant amount of damage using the arthroscope, he or she may need to convert to an open procedure to visualize the area. While this is a rare instance, open surgery is a possibility.

Shoulder Arthroscopy Recovery

Shoulder arthroscopy is typically performed on an outpatient basis, which means you will return home following surgery. You should arrange to have a person drive you home from the surgery to prevent anesthesia-related traffic accidents. Your physician will likely prescribe pain medication to help relieve discomfort post-surgery. Because arthroscopy requires minimal incisions, you should experience less post-operative pain, bleeding and scarring as compared to traditional open procedures.

However, you can still experience post-operative complications. These include infection at the incision sites, blood clots and nerve damage. Always notify your physician if you experience pain that worsens instead of improves after surgery, drainage from the incision site(s) or excessive bleeding.

Healing post-shoulder arthroscopy and repair can take time. Your physician may recommend certain activity restrictions and physical therapy until mobility in the shoulder joint has returned.

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