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A shoulder injury can be debilitating, affecting not only your physical abilities but also your overall quality of life. Among the various shoulder injuries, tears in the supraspinatus muscle (a key component of the rotator cuff) can cause significant discomfort and limitation in movement. Whether you felt your shoulder pain during sport, your regular daily activities or are experiencing shoulder pain at night, there are many different causes of a supraspinatus tear and options for treatments.

If you’ve experienced a rotator cuff tear, it is common for this to be a supraspinatus tendon tear. It is the most frequently damaged tendon in the shoulder. This is a tear or rupture of the tendon connected to the supraspinatus muscle (which is part of the rotator cuff of the shoulder). It’s often accompanied by other tears in the muscles and may require further repair of the rotator cuff.

The shoulder joint is a complex structure consisting of three bones: the clavicle, humerus, and scapula. The head of the humerus and the glenoid cavity of the scapula combine to form a ball and socket joint that allows your arm to move in a wide range of angles. However, what keeps the head of the humerus in place is the rotator cuff, which is made up of four tendons: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor.

female with sore shoulder being assed by a surgeon

The supraspinatus tendon is located on the back of the shoulder and plays an important role in your arm’s ability to move through its full range of motion. It is also responsible for providing power and strength to your arm’s movement. Its importance is often overlooked until a sport injury occurs, during high-intensity activities involving long-spanned and fast arm movements, such as tennis or swimming.

Fortunately, advancements in medical technology and surgical techniques have made it possible to treat these injuries and effectively facilitate successful recovery.

How is a supraspinatus tendon tear treated?

The treatment approach for supraspinatus tears depends on the severity of the injury. Minor tears may be managed through non-surgical methods initially, including:

  • Rest: Limiting activities involving the shoulder and using a sling for support.
  • NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Physical Therapy: Targeted exercises can strengthen the shoulder and restore range of motion.
  • Injections: Corticosteroid injections may be used to alleviate painful symptoms.

Regular check-ups with an orthopaedic shoulder surgeon are crucial to monitor the tear’s progression. Severe tears or those involving multiple tendons may necessitate surgical intervention.

When do supraspinatus tears need to be operated on?

Surgery may be recommended for:

  • Full-thickness tears, as they typically do not heal without surgical intervention.
  • Tears that cause significant weakness or loss of shoulder function.
  • Tears larger than three centimetres, particularly if symptoms persist for more than six months.
  • Tears resulting from recent trauma.

Younger patients, especially those wishing to maintain an active lifestyle or those involved in overhead activities, may benefit from earlier surgical intervention.

Surgeon reviewing womens shoulder abilities

What to expect before a rotator cuff repair surgery?

Before undergoing supraspinatus tears treatment, patients can expect a thorough discussion with their orthopaedic surgeon to understand the details of the procedure and the expected recovery process.

Diagnostic imaging, such as MRI scans, may be conducted to assess the extent of the tear and plan the surgical approach accordingly.

Your orthopaedic surgeon may choose to perform a shoulder arthroscopy to help diagnose and repair the problem. An arthroscopy is a procedure used to examine, diagnose, and repair problems inside the joint. It involves inserting a tiny camera – an arthroscope – into the shoulder joint through a small cut or cuts in the skin.

female surgeon about to operate on a shoulder
What surgery is performed for a supraspinatus tendon repair?

The surgery performed to repair a supraspinatus tear is a rotator cuff repair. Our surgeon at Melbourne Arm Clinic will help you understand if surgery is the best treatment option for your specific case.

Our blog on Rotator Cuff Surgery and Recovery can help prepare you for your procedure, as well as answer any burning questions you have.

How to recover from supraspinatus tears treatment?

Post-surgery recovery is a critical phase in the treatment journey. Pain management is prioritised, with medications prescribed to alleviate discomfort. It is common to require some pain relief for about a week after surgery.

Depending on your job, your surgeon will discuss the expected timeline to return to work. It may take 4 weeks to return to work if you have a desk job. If you have to lift at work, you’ll need to wait at least 3 months.

You will need rehab after rotator cuff surgery. This will start at around 2 weeks after surgery and typically lasts 4 – 9 months. Rehabilitation typically involves:

  • Immobilisation: Initially, the repaired shoulder may be immobilised with a sling to facilitate healing. It is common to spend the first 4 weeks in a sling after the surgery.
  • Passive Exercise: Gradual introduction of passive exercises by a therapist to improve range of motion.
  • Active Exercise: As strength improves, patients progress to active exercises to regain muscle control and function.
  • Physical Therapy: A structured physical therapy program helps to restore shoulder strength and motion gradually.

Managing life after a supraspinatus tear surgery

Life after supraspinatus tear surgery involves a long-term commitment to rehabilitation and adherence to post-operative guidelines. While recovery may take several months, patients can expect a gradual improvement in shoulder function and overall quality of life.

Supraspinatus tears surgery and recovery require a multidisciplinary approach, involving collaboration between patients, orthopaedic surgeons, and physical therapists. With advancements in surgical techniques and comprehensive rehabilitation programs, individuals can expect to regain shoulder strength, mobility, and function, allowing them to resume their regular daily activities with minimal discomfort.

Woman playing tennis

If you suspect a supraspinatus tear or are experiencing shoulder pain, seeking timely medical evaluation and exploring treatment options can significantly impact your long-term shoulder health and well-being.

Book an appointment with our shoulder surgeon today to discuss your questions about Supraspinatus Tears surgery and recovery.