Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

50+: Live Better, Longer

Font Size

Elderly Can Benefit From Rotator Cuff Surgery, Too

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

May 29, 2001 -- Shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff tears in people over 65 can provide long-term pain relief and a higher level of function, and help patients maintain an independent lifestyle, according to a new study.

Conventional wisdom holds that older patients should be treated conservatively -- with medications like anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroid injections, and physical therapy -- partially because tears are thought to be a natural, inevitable phenomenon as a person ages, partially due to concerns over poor results after surgery, and partially due to safety concerns during surgery in this older population.

But not everybody responds to conservative treatment; even among those who do, there is the possibility of reinjury. In those cases, surgery is the only alternative to ease the near-constant pain.

"In rotator cuff pathology, there are two different subgroups -- and this applies generally but especially to this age group," explains Gary McGillivary, MD, assistant professor of orthopaedics at Emory University Medical School, in Atlanta. "One would be a traumatic rotator cuff tear -- someone slips and falls, causing sudden onset of injury; this is unusual in this age group. The second group is patients with a degenerative rotator cuff tear. Those are very, very common. It's due to chronic impingement of the rotator cuff tendons on the undersurface of a piece bone [called the] acromion: They jam, they thin, they fray, and eventually they tear. If you look at certain studies, the problem affects 40% of the population over the age of 70."

McGillivary, who was not part of the study but reviewed it for WebMD, says a large majority of patients with degenerative problems respond well to simple, nonsurgical therapies (corticosteroids and physical therapy to strengthen their rotator cuff muscles and other muscles around the shoulder). But for patients in the first group, and those who don't respond well to conservative treatment in the second group, McGillivary says surgery should be considered.

But the question remains: How well do these patients do in the long run?

Orthopaedists led by Mustafa Yel, MD, from the Selcuk University Medical Faculty (Turkey), studied the long-term results of surgical rotator cuff repairs in 47 patients who were 65 years old or older at the time of their procedure. None of them had responded satisfactorily to earlier conservative treatment for their condition.

Today on WebMD

Eating for a longer, healthier life.
woman biking
How to stay vital in your 50s and beyond.
womans finger tied with string
Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
man reviewing building plans
Do you know how to stay healthy as you age?
fast healthy snack ideas
how healthy is your mouth
dog on couch
doctor holding syringe
champagne toast
Two women wearing white leotards back to back
Man feeding woman
two senior women laughing