The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that form a cuff over the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons hold the arm in its "ball and socket" joint and help the shoulder to rotate and move. The role of the tendons is to hold the powerful shoulder muscles to the shoulder and arm bones. The tendons can be torn from overuse or injury.
Your surgeon will first check your shoulder with a small camera (arthroscope) to look at the tear and determine if it can be fixed. The arthroscope is inserted into the shoulder through a small poke-hole. The camera is connected to a video monitor. The surgeon looks around the entire joint to check the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments of your shoulder.
After evaluating the shoulder joint, the surgeon places the camera in the space above the rotator cuff tendons, called the subacromial space. The surgeon can check the area above the rotator cuff, clean out the inflamed or damaged tissue, and remove a bone spur (subacromial spur).
If a tear is going to be fixed, the surgeon may perform the surgery with a larger, open incision. Other surgeons can use the arthroscope and 1 - 3 additional small poke-holes or smaller incisions to perform the surgery. The additional small incisions allow the surgeon to insert other instruments to repair damaged tissue.
The goal is to attach the tendon back to the bone where it tore off. The tendon is attached with sutures. Small rivets (called suture anchors) are often used to help attach the tendon to the bone. The suture anchors can be made of metal or material that dissolves over time, and do not need to be removed. Sutures are attached to the anchors, which tie the tendon back to the bone.
At the end of the surgery, the incisions are closed, and a dressing is applied. If arthroscopy was performed, most surgeons take pictures of the procedure from the video monitor to show you what they found and repairs they made.