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 paper states that for people over the age of 70 who want pain relief, this relief is a fairly predictable outcome of the surgery.

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

An example of function is that of being able to retrieve an item from a high shelf, requiring maximum overhead reach of the arms and hands.

Arthroscopy may not restore all the function in some patients, such as those with a large tear in their rotator cuff, 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.

Tear in the Rotator Cuff

A tear in a rotator cuff tendon. Nucleus Communications, via Wikimedia Commons

“According to a systematic review in 2020, which looked at rotator cuff repair in patients over the age of 70 years, there was a high satisfaction rate with significant improvement in function and pain in this patient population,” says Marc F. Matarazzo, MD, a board certified orthopedic surgeon with The Center for Bone & Joint Surgery of the Palm Beaches, FL.

Tears in the rotator cuff occur to about 20 percent of people over age 65.

A surgeon might advise against an operation for elderly patients due to less resilient bone quality and circulation.

But for older people for whom conservative treatments were not effective, arthroscopy is their last hope.

Studies have followed rotator cuff repair patients long-term and found that not only was their pain greatly reduced, but in many cases, their range of motion had improved significantly.

This means 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.

Another area that the procedure can improve in the elderly is that of strength.

Ninety-four percent of the patients for the Rush University study 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.

However, there will always be patients of elderly age whose rotator cuff tears are determined to be non-repairable, and hence, are not candidates for arthroscopic surgery.

Dr. Matarazzo specializes in sports medicine and related injuries. He performs minimally invasive and complex reconstructions, and joint replacements, of the shoulder and knee. Dr. Matarazzo is certified in the MAKO robotic-assisted knee replacement system and has 20+ years of orthopedic experience. He has a special interest in cartilage restoration and preservation.
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