Shoulder arthroscopy is a very common orthopedic procedure. It is most frequently done to address problems with the rotator cuff, which is a series of small muscles that are vital to the proper function of the shoulder joint. In most cases, rotator cuff problems develop over long periods of time, and often are not associated with a specific injury.
The surgery is done on an outpatient basis in most cases. It involves 3 or 4 small incisions, each about ¼ inch in length. The incisions allow access to the entire joint for repair of the torn tissue and to remove sources of pain such as “bone spurs”. You will be asked to arrive 90 minutes prior to the start of the surgery, which typically lasts for 1-2 hours, and patients are usually discharged home about one hour after completion. The anesthesiologist will apply a nerve block that will prevent any pain in the arm for the next 18 hours on average. This allows most patients to be very comfortable for the first evening at home.
Physical therapy is vital to the success of shoulder surgery, and should begin within 3 days of the procedure. PT typically lasts for 6-8 weeks, or until patients have regained full range of motion and strength. In most cases patients will be asked to wear a sling full time (except for exercises with PT) for the first 4 weeks following the surgery to protect the repaired tissue. Shoulder arthroscopy tends to be a lengthy recovery, however, the long-term results are very good. Most patients are released to full activity approximately 3 months following the procedure.