Rotator Cuff Surgery Not a Handicap for Golfers

Golf often results in rotator cuff injuries. Aging is also related to rotator cuff injures. The result is that many rotator cuff tears happen in recreational golfers. There have been studies to determine how effectively baseball pitchers or tennis players can return to competition after surgery to repair rotator cuff tears. But so far, there has been little information on recreational golfers.

The authors of this study set out to correct that. They checked in with 29 recreational golfers who had undergone surgery to repair full-thickness rotator cuff tears. Most had moderate-sized tears. All the patients had also undergone acriomioplasty, which involves removing a small piece from the top edge of the shoulder blade. Acromioplasty is commonly performed during rotator cuff repairs. All of the golfers had been forced to stop playing golf because of their shoulder pain. The average age of the golfers was 60. The surgeries were almost equally divided between open surgery, done by cutting through the muscles, and arthroscopic surgery. Arthroscopic surgery uses a tiny TV camera to show the surgeon the inside of the joint, which allows for smaller incisions.

The authors interviewed the golfers an average of three years after surgery. All patients reported being satisfied with surgery. Physical testing showed 87 percent excellent and 10 percent fair results. A whopping 90 percent of the patients had returned to playing golf, and 88 percent of them felt they were playing at their former competitive level. Neither of the patients with massive tears had returned to playing golf. However, of the three patients who no longer played golf, one had been in a car accident and re-injured the shoulder, one had stopped playing for other reasons, and one had developed chronic shoulder problems unrelated to surgery. The authors didn't see any significant differences between golfers who had injuries to the lead shoulder or those who had injured the back shoulder.

This study shows that golfers are more likely to be able to return to their pre-injury competitive level than pitchers or tennis players. The authors attribute such success to three factors. First, the athletes they studied were recreational athletes, not the high-level athletes commonly included in many other studies. Recreational golfers put much less stress on their shoulders than professional golfers. Second, in all cases the surgeons could reattach the tears to bone in the correct position. Third, most of the patients really wanted to golf and be active again.

These players followed their rehabilitation plan closely, which included wearing a sling at first and doing passive motion exercises right away. Active exercises began from four to six weeks after surgery, and resistance exercises 10 to 12 weeks after surgery. Patients weren't allowed even to try chipping and putting until three months after surgery, and driving was allowed only four to five months after surgery.

It may not seem overly important to make sure that older people can continue to golf after rotator cuff surgery. But, as the authors conclude, golf is an enjoyable way for many people of all ages to socialize and stay fit. In many countries, 10 to 20 percent of the population plays golf. Not being able to play golf after rotator cuff surgery would be a major handicap to a lot of folks.

Reference: 

Michael J. Vives, MD, et al. Repair of Rotator Cuff Tears in Golfers. In Arthroscopy. February 2001. Vol. 17. No. 2. Pp. 165-172.

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