Find out what kind of shoulder surgery is safer for elderly patients suffering with debilitating rotator cuff pain.

An elderly person may be concerned about complications from shoulder surgery.

However, a Rush University Medical Center study shows that for the elderly, arthroscopic surgery is a safe bet, and it works to reduce pain and improve function. Arthroscopy is minimally invasive.

The lead study author, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nikhil Verma, states that for people over the age of 70 who want pain relief, this relief “is a fairly reliable outcome after surgery.”

For those of advanced age, pain relief tends to be a higher priority over that of 100 percent restoration of shoulder function.

Arthroscopy won’t restore all the function, but it will go a long way in relieving the pain.

In short, people over age 70 are not too old for shoulder arthroscopic surgery for the treatment of rotator cuff pain.

Tears in the rotator cuff occur to about 20 percent of people over age 65. Often, surgeons will advise against an operation for elderly patients due to less resilient bone quality and circulation.

In this study, 30 people over age 70 underwent arthroscopy for rotator cuff tears; for these patients, more conservative treatment had failed.

The subjects were followed for two years, and their range of motion had improved significantly.

This meant being able to raise the surgical arm in front as well as rotate it to the side—motions that were impossible or difficult prior to the procedure.

Strength also improved, and in 96 percent of these elderly patients, pain was significantly reduced.

This includes pain that, for some, was so bad that it disrupted their sleep. Ninety-four percent said they’d have the surgery again if they had to do it over.

Why does arthroscopic shoulder surgery turn out so well for elderly patients?

There are newer surgical techniques, plus the patients’ commitment to post-operative rehab.

Patients with rotator cuff tears that are determined to be irreparable were not suitable candidates for the procedure.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 
Top image: Shutterstock/Dmytro Zinkevych