Elderly patients fare well after arthroscopic shoulder surgery

A study conducted by researchers from Rush University Medical Center have debunked the notion that elderly patients shouldn’t have their torn shoulder muscles repaired because of the risk of complications. The new study, to be published in the October issue of Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic and related Surgery, says elderly patients can significantly improve their pain and function by having minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery to repair their shoulders.

“In people over the age of 70, pain is the main issue, and pain relief is a fairly reliable outcome after surgery,” said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nikhil Verma, who led the study. “Patients do not require that their shoulder function be fully restored. They just want the pain to be gone.” Verma is assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Rush.

Surgery of this type is often not advised for elderly patients because their circulation and bone quality is poorer. Many elderly also often have other diseases or condition that can compromise the healing process. However, arthroscopic surgery is far less invasive, leading to a more positive outcome.

The study looked at 39 patients over the age of 70 who underwent surgery to repair full-thickness tears in the rotator cuff after more conservative treatments, such as pain medication and procedures to remove fragments of tissue, had failed. The patients were followed for two years and their shoulder function was compared to that of similar seniors of similar age who had healthy, normal shoulders.

According to a press release issued by Rush, “Range of motion improved significantly. Patients were able to raise their arm in front and rotate it to the side – something that for many was difficult or impossible before the surgery. Muscle strength also improved. Pain was reduced significantly in 96 percent of the patients, many of whom had undergone the surgery because their pain was so bad they were unable to sleep. Almost all the patients reported improved function in their shoulder, and 94 percent said they were satisfied and would undergo the surgery again if they had to make the decision over.”