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Inside a Rotator Cuff Tear: April 24, 2011

'Unrelenting pain.' 'Like a dull toothache.' 'It keeps me awake at night.' These are just some of the common complaints that orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Mehalik hears on a daily basis. "A lot of patients will say, 'oh, it doesn't really hurt in my shoulder. It hurts in the upper part of my arm and that's actually fairly classic for rotator cuff problems."

Rotator cuff tears are considered the most common cause of pain and disability for adults. "When you get a rotator cuff tear, typically what will happen is the tendon will tear from the bone, leaving a deficiency in the tendon like this and the reason that patients get pain as a consequence of that is primarily due to overload of the surrounding tendons."

After a series of physical examinations, x-rays, and in some cases, MRIs or ultrasounds, Dr. Mehalik will recommend arthroscopic rotator cuff repair if surgery is needed. This technique uses smaller incisions which means less scarring and a quicker recovery for patients.

"In the repair process, what we do is freshen this edge of the bone, right over here where this tendon used to be attached to. We use some little devices down inside the bone that are called suitre anchors, they work like a drywall anchor in your home works to hold a picture," explains Dr. Mehalik. It gets buried down deep inside the bone and has a strong suitre to it and we route that suitre through the torn edge of the cuff and then swet it back down anatomically where it used to be."

This minimally invasive procedure takes a little less than an hour. Patients usually return to normal activities within 3 months. A much faster recovery than traditional surgery which generally takes between 6 to 12 months.