I Need Tendon Repair Surgery, Now What?

From rotator cuff injuries to Achilles tendon repair procedures and everything in between, damaged tendons come from a variety of sources with varying levels of severity. In the US alone, tendon, ligament, and joint capsular injuries account for 45% of the 32 million musculoskeletal injuries each year. Every injury is a unique challenge, but staying on top of symptoms is paramount to recognizing damage and maintaining function. Prevention is particularly key as rates of joint injuries continue to rise due to a jump in sports engagement and an aging population. While injuries are common and diverse, patients can find relief with surgical intervention and comprehensive physical therapy.

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Rotator cuff tear

One of the most common tendon repairs in the country, rotator cuff tears can lead to debilitating pain, reduced shoulder function, and weakness. About 40% of patients over 60 suffer from rotator cuff issues, resulting in an estimated 30,000-75,000 repairs every year across the US.

Do I need surgery for a rotator cuff tear?

Around 80% of the time, partial tears can be treated with physical therapy and corticosteroid injections whereas full tears often require surgery. In rotator cuff tears, the damage is often found in repeated stress, such as overhead throwing found in American baseball and beach volleyball.

Physical therapy and surgery recovery

To improve the range of motion in the shoulder and strengthen the muscles that support the joint, a personal care provider may recommend specific exercises. Physical therapy can focus on muscle and ligament tightness in the back of the shoulder, helping to strengthen the structures in the front of the shoulder. To recover from a movement-based tendon injury as fast as possible, consistent, daily activity is key, such as using the stationary bike or elliptical in the gym. Cardiovascular exercises are key to maintaining overall health and mobility, expediting recovery time with or without surgery. However, when surgery is needed, doctors restore function by reattaching the torn tendon to the upper arm bone. Patients can expect 6-8 weeks minimum of rest after surgery to allow the tendon to heal properly.

Surgery for an Achilles tendon tear

Whether torn, damaged, or degenerated, Achilles injuries are common and troublesome. To repair the tendon, doctors will stitch the muscle back together through a small incision in the calf. In cases of a damaged or diseased Achilles tendon, doctors will remove and replace the tendon altogether. After surgery, patients can expect to keep weight off the impacted leg for up to 10 days. Once stitches are out, key experts suggest complementing rest with consistent, low-impact physical therapy.

The right treatment for you

Every year, hundreds of thousands of patients seek treatment for a tendon injury. While the most common tears happen in the shoulder and ankle, all types of tears can be remarkably debilitating. As an initial treatment, some physicians suggest using physical therapy and specific medications. In severe tears, surgeons often stitch the muscles back together via small incisions to restore movement. No matter the damage, healthcare providers emphasize the importance of setting aside several weeks to heal. With enough time and proper care, most patients will be back to daily activity in a few months.

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