At What Point Does a Rotator Cuff Tear Need Surgery?

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A rotator cuff tear requires surgery when the shoulder suffers continued pain or weakness despite non-surgical efforts to treat the rotator cuff injury, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Often, this pain manifests when the patient attempts to lift or reach for items or during the night.

Before resorting to surgery, orthopedic surgeons typically treat rotator cuff tears with a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy and steroid injections. While rotator cuff tears do not heal without surgery, these non-surgical options often provide the patient with sufficient functionality in the shoulder, explains the AAOS. However, patients who need to lift their arms overhead for work, who are active in sports, or who suffer limited use of their arm and continued pain after months of non-surgical treatment are often advised to try surgical repair of the injury.