Your surgeon will determine which type of surgery is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital or surgical center based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. Learn about the different rotator cuff surgeries and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type of surgery for you.

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your surgeon will perform rotator cuff surgery using either regional anesthesia or general anesthesia, depending on the specific procedure. 

  • General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain. You may receive a peripheral nerve block infusion in addition to general anesthesia. A peripheral nerve block is an injection or a continuous drip of a liquid anesthetic. The anesthetic flows through a tiny tube inserted near your surgical site to control pain during and after surgery.
  • Regional anesthesia is also known as a nerve block. Your anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will inject an anesthetic around certain nerves in the neck so you do not feel anything in the affected area. You will likely have sedation with regional anesthesia to keep you relaxed and comfortable. 

What to expect the day of your rotator cuff surgery

The day of your surgery, you can generally expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent.
  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member if possible. The surgical team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will receive.
  • A surgical team member will start an IV.
  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia.
  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control your breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgical procedure as they happen.
  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.

What are the risks and potential complications of rotator cuff surgery?  

As with all surgeries, rotator cuff surgery involves risks and potential complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during the procedure or recovery.  

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clot, in particular a deep vein thrombosis that develops in the leg or pelvis. A blood clot can travel to your lungs, heart or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke.
  • Infection and septicemia, which is the spread of a local infection to the blood

Potential complications of rotator cuff surgery

Complications of rotator cuff surgery can be serious and include :

  • Deltoid detachment, which is a complication of open surgery. In open surgery, your surgeon moves the deltoid muscle out of place in order to reach your rotator cuff, and then stitches it back in place. It is vulnerable to injury and detachment until it heals.
  • Nerve damage, which can lead to numbness and tingling in the affected arm
  • Stiffness and loss of range of motion, which is usually temporary and responds well to aggressive physical therapy
  • Tendon re-tear, which is more common with larger tears 

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before surgery and during recovery. This includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other rehabilitation treatments.
  • Notifying your doctor immediately of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, increase in pain, or wound redness, swelling or drainage 
  • Taking your medications exactly as directed 
  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies