Will Rotator Cuff Surgery Give You the Cold Shoulder? A Ten-Year Check-Up

Rotator cuff tears are commonly repaired with surgery. Short-term results are good, but few studies have looked at how people fare years after surgery. These authors wanted to know whether patients who had rotator cuff surgery still had good results ten years later, and how the results changed over time.

Thirty-three patients had surgery for rotator cuff tears. All of them had tried other kinds of treatment such as rest, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory drugs before they had surgery. Their average age at the time of surgery was 55 years. Most of the patients were men.

Before surgery, patients filled out questionnaires about their pain and ability to do daily activities. They did these same questionnaires two and ten years later. Their shoulder strength was also measured. From this information, the authors gave each patient a “grade” before surgery and at each of the follow-ups. In addition, patients were asked about their activity levels. They were given a “disability rating,” which specifically described their ability to do daily tasks.  

Taking into account the effects of aging, patients’ grades for pain and function were even better at ten years than at two. At two years, 88 percent of them got good or excellent grades. The same was true for 91 percent at ten-year follow-up.

Patients generally felt they had good results. Most of them said their shoulders were “nearly normal” two years after surgery. This did not change at ten years.

In spite of this, patients were generally less active over time. At two years, ten of them had very low activity levels. By ten years, this number had gone up to 18. Many of the patients had reached the age of retirement by this point. Twelve of them had the same jobs they’d had at the two-year follow-up, but 19 had retired. Only two patients had to retire because of shoulder problems, though.

Patients had less disability with time. At two years, eight patients were unable to do normal activities, whereas this was only true of one patient at ten-year follow-up. This could be because patients became less active in later years, meaning fewer demands were placed on their shoulders.

Only three patients had unsatisfactory results from surgery, but all three started out with massive rotator cuff tears. Patients with small or medium tears had excellent results ten years later. The authors conclude that the results of rotator cuff surgery do not worsen over time. For patients close to retirement, the results may even get better.