About Shoulder Pain/Rotator Cuff

Receive effective treatment for your shoulder pain in the physical therapy clinic at the University Orthopaedic Center. Specialists at the clinic carefully examine injuries and create individualized treatments for your particular condition.

The team of specialists at the clinic also not only treat patients but participate in cutting-edge research, which helps them provide the most up-to-date treatment options.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Rotator Cuff Arthropathy

What is rotator cuff arthropathy?

Rotator cuff arthopathy is when a patient has a large rotator cuff tear and poor rotator cuff function meaning that the shoulder is not centered in the socket. Because of this the shoulder does not have adequate elevation or motion. Over time the shoulder gets arthritic and rubs abnormally, not only on the socket but also up on the tip or acromion of the shoulder.

Overall, patients have very poor range of motion and an inability to lift their arm along with constant pain.

How is the diagnosis made?

The diagnosis of rotator cuff disease is made by taking a history from the patient, doing a physical examination and an X-ray. Occasionally an MRI is used to augment the information on the status of the rotator cuff problem.

What non-surgical treatment is there?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen can help some discomfort, but obviously will not help shoulder strength and motion. It is difficult to improve this situation through exercise since the muscles are not attached to the shoulder normally. Occasionally cortisone injections give some temporary relief and are an option for some individuals.

Is there more than one surgical option?

A new procedure has become available in the United States called a reverse shoulder replacement. It is called a reverse replacement because there is a metal ball that is actually screwed into the socket side of the shoulder and a plastic cup that is placed on the top of the humeral arm bone reversing the regular arrangement. The metal and plastic helps with eliminating pain, and the shoulder can now function better using just the deltoid muscle to help move it.

Significant motion gains are possible after this procedure for many patients whereas in the past these were not seen with other procedures.

When is surgery recommended?

Surgery is recommended for patients who do not have significant rotator cuff function and have a normal deltoid muscle. Patients need to be older—usually at least 65 years of age. The procedure offers the most to the patient who has very minimal ability to elevate or lift his or her arm and also has significant pain; also the patient should not have the option for rotator cuff repair.

How is the procedure done?

The procedure involves removing the top of the humeral bone and replacing this with a plastic cup that sits on a metal stem, which is placed down into the humerus or arm bone. A smooth metal hemisphere is then screwed onto the glenoid. The cup on the humerus is snapped into position under this metal ball and held in place by tension applied from the intact muscles. This allows the shoulder to have the deltoid muscle re-tensioned, which allows it to work more efficiently in the absence of the rotator cuff muscles.

This procedure takes approximately two hours and the standard time in the hospital is one to two days.

How does the anesthesia work?

One of the truly unique features of shoulder arthroplasty at University of Utah Health's Orthopaedic Center is the use of a small catheter that is placed near the nerves in the neck (anesthesia). We have a unique system for placing these with a high level of accuracy and minimal discomfort for the patient. This catheter allows anesthesia to run into the area slowly over a couple of days.

Because of this it is very common for arthroplasty patients to have minimal pain over their first couple of days after surgery, allowing them to get off to a very good start and not be sick from other medications, be able to eat well, and be very mobile overall.

What are the possible complications?

The complications that can occur with this procedure are similar to other surgeries of this magnitude. They include the following: infection, blood loss, nerve injury, loosening of the replacement parts, dislocation, and fractures around the implants among others; however, the specialists at the orthopaedic center give you preoperative antibiotics to counter infection, rarely need to give blood transfusions and find that while nerve injury can occur, it is usually temporary (although, a permanent neurologic injury is possible but rare). Also, the components that are placed in the joint can be revised or removed.

What about therapy and return to my normal activities?

Immediately after surgery the patient is encouraged to move the elbow and wrist but shoulder only minimally. The patient typically wears a sling with a slight pillow next to it for approximately four weeks. After this, if the specialist feels there is enough early healing the patient can move their arm more actively as well as perform physical therapy.

By four weeks the patient should be able to lift their arm; a full recovery is anticipated by six months.

What are the limitations of my shoulder after my surgery?

Due to the nature of this type of procedure, the patient must be careful using their shoulder after the surgery. They are not a candidate for heavy use of their shoulder, such as work on a farm or vigorous yard work. The goal is for the patient to perform daily living activities and routine light exercise.

Robert T. Burks, MD

Patient Rating:


4.7 out of 5

Dr. Robert Burks, Professor, specializing in the field of sports medicine and shoulder surgery. His practice focuses on injuries to and degenerative conditions of the shoulder and knee. Dr. Burks graduated from St. Louis University School of Medicine in 1978. He completed his orthopedic residency at the University of California at San Diego and sub... Read More

Peter N. Chalmers, MD

Dr. Chalmers is a member of the faculty at the University of Utah within the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He focuses on the care of all shoulder and elbow problems, from young athletes to shoulder arthritis. His practice includes minimally invasive arthroscopy, ligament and tendon repair, joint replacement, reconstruction surgery, fracture ca... Read More

Patrick E. Greis, MD

Patient Rating:


4.7 out of 5

Dr. Patrick Greis, Board Certified Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, joined the Department of Orthopaedics in March of 1997 and specializes in sports medicine, knee and shoulder surgery. His interests include all aspects of knee and shoulder surgery, including arthroscopic surgery, ACL reconstruction, shoulder instability, rotator cuff issues, arth... Read More

David J. Petron, MD

Patient Rating:


4.7 out of 5

Dr. David Petron, Assistant Professor (clinical) is a primary care orthopaedic/sports medicine specialist. He originally trained in family practice and then completed a fellowship in primary care orthopaedics and sports medicine at Michigan State University. Dr. Petron is the Director of Primary Care Sports Medicine and the team physician for the U... Read More

Amy P. Powell, MD

Patient Rating:


4.8 out of 5

Dr. Amy Powell, Assistant Professor, (clinical) is a board certified Sports Medicine physician serving as a team physician for the University of Utah Utes. She specializes in the care of athletes and active people of all ages, focusing on attaining and maintaining a patient’s physical performance goals. Dr. Powell received her medical degree from t... Read More


Foot and Ankle, Shoulder, Sports Medicine


University Orthopaedic Center 801-587-7109

Robert Z. Tashjian, BA, MD

Patient Rating:


4.7 out of 5

Dr. Robert Tashjian is a Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, UT specializing in shoulder and elbow surgery. Dr. Tashjian received his medical doctorate from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, MA. He completed an orthopaedic residency at Brown Medical School in Providence, RI followed... Read More


Orthopaedic Surgery, Shoulder, Sports Medicine


Northern Utah Clinic-The Lodge 435-723-0540
University Orthopaedic Center 801-587-7109

Bruce E. Thomas, MD

Bruce Thomas, M.D., is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon, and Orthopedic Clinical Attending for the University of Utah.  Dr. Thomas specializes in diagnosis and treatment of shoulder, knee and sports injuries including instability, rotator cuff tears, and knee pain.Dr. Thomas is a graduate of Brigham Young University and the Medical College of G... Read More

Bob Toth, PA-C, MPAS, MS, ATC

Patient Rating:


4.7 out of 5

Bob Toth is both a nationally certified Physician Assistant and a certified Athletic Trainer who joined the Department of Orthopaedics in January 2010. He earned his Master's of Physician Assistant Studies from the University of Utah. Prior to becoming a Physician Assistant he was an Athletic Trainer for 14 years at the University of Utah, Adrian C... Read More

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Salt Lake City, UT 84108
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