Elderly Patients with Torn Shoulders Benefit from Surgery Despite Age

September 2, 2010

Minimally invasive, or arthroscopic, surgery may significantly improve pain and function, according to a study by Rush University Medical Center researchers.

Minimally invasive, or arthroscopic, surgery may significantly improve pain and function, according to a study by Rush University Medical Center researchers.

Published in Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery, the study examined the complications related to repairing torn shoulder muscles in elderly patients.

“In people over the age of 70, pain is the main issue, and pain relief is a fairly reliable outcome after surgery," said study leader and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nikhil Verma, in a press release. "Patients do not require that their shoulder function be fully restored. They just want the pain to be gone."

Age is not a contraindication for the surgery, Verma said.

Currently, surgeons generally recommend against surgery for seniors with tears in the rotator cuff, because their circulation and bone quality are poorer. Elderly patients also often have other diseases that can compromise the healing process.

The team studied 30 patients, age 70 or older, who underwent surgery to repair full-thickness tears in the rotator cuff after more conservative treatments failed. The patients were followed for two years after surgery and their shoulder function was compared to similar individuals in good health.

Range of motion improved significantly and patients were able to raise their arm in front and rotate it to the side. Muscle strength also improved and pain was reduced significantly in 96% of the patients. Most reported improved function in their shoulder and 94% were satisfied and would undergo surgery again if they had to make the decision over.

The authors concluded that the success of the arthroscopic rotator cuff repair surgery was due to newer surgical techniques, as well as the individuals’ commitment to post-operative rehabilitation and realistic expectations.