Shoulder Surgery Technique Leaves Rotator Cuff Intact

R. Michael Greiwe, M.D.

Photo provided by St. Elizabeth Healthcare

If you’re stalling on shoulder replacement surgery because reeling in seemingly endless post-surgery pain isn’t your favorite pastime, or you simply loathe the idea of spending multiple weeks afterward with that shoulder in a sling, you might want to chat with Dr. R. Michael Greiwe.

Dr. Greiwe, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with OrthoCincy Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, who practices at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, recently developed a new shoulder replacement technique that preserves the patient’s rotator cuff, potentially resulting in less pain and shorter recovery time. St. Elizabeth and OrthoCincy are the first in the world to offer the revolutionary procedure.

According to Greiwe, his Rotator Cuff Sparing Method for Total Shoulder Replacement involves accessing a patient’s shoulder joint from the back rather than the front, eliminating the need to cut muscles or tendons in the rotator cuff. Hence, the potential for major reduction in pain and recovery time.

“Total shoulder replacement surgery is definitely one of the more painful surgeries with a difficult recovery when we have to take down the rotator cuff. I thought it was time to work on a different method,” says Greiwe, who attended the University of Notre Dame where he received the Knute Rockne Award for excellence in academics and athletics. He completed his orthopaedic surgery training at the University of Cincinnati Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, and completed his fellowship in shoulder, elbow and sports medicine at Columbia University.


Why It Makes A Difference

During traditional shoulder replacement surgery, a surgeon first makes an incision in the front of the shoulder and then peels off one of the rotator cuff attachments and pulls it out of the way to access the diseased ball and socket joint. Greiwe’s new method approaches the shoulder from the back and preserves the rotator cuff attachments. “I felt I had enough experience to work from the back of the shoulder. It hadn’t been done before, but it was something I knew offered an excellent opportunity to preserve the rotator cuff,” explains Greiwe.

Now, surgeons using instruments specifically designed for this new technique can access the shoulder joint from the back, replacing the arthritic ball and socket with artificial implants, all without cutting into the rotator cuff. With the traditional shoulder replacement approach, he adds, patients usually endure a long recovery period due not only to the joint being replaced but because of the tendon repair necessary to put the rotator cuff back in place. By avoiding taking down that rotator cuff, what used to mean six weeks in a sling is reduced to only a day or two.

Less pain, of course, means less time spent taking pain medication, adds Greiwe, who has performed a total of 40 of these surgeries. Quicker return to work and family obligations and shorter physical therapy/rehabilitation are also potential benefits to this surgical approach. This surgery can be performed on an outpatient basis and requires a total recovery time of about three-six months compared to six to nine months with traditional surgery.


Are You a Candidate?

In addition to severe pain, symptoms indicating you may be a candidate for this type of surgery include inability to move your arm; a grinding sensation in your shoulder; a shoulder ache that radiates down your arm; and decreased ability to bathe, reach, lift or play sports that require throwing a ball. 


To make an appointment with Dr. Greiwe and OrthoCincy Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine please call (859) 301-BONE (2663). For more information about St. Elizabeth Healthcare, visit