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Graphic with a skeletal view of a shoulder with the language "What to expect after rotator cuff surgery"Rotator Cuff surgery is a common treatment for a torn Rotator Cuff. There may be some situations where surgery is the best treatment and then other cases where no surgery is needed. The surgical procedure is the most straightforward aspect of the treatment, and the rehab and recovery is the most challenging.

  • The first days after surgery are focused on making sure your pain in under control. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help with the discomfort. Don’t forget about icing the shoulder, this will be the most important part of the pain control. You will have to wear a sling for about 3-6 weeks depending on the doctor to help support that surgical arm. You will also be told to not drive for at least 6 weeks after surgery or when your doctor clears you.
  • Sleeping after shoulder surgery can be a challenge for everyone. Many patients find it most comfortable sleeping in a recliner in a semi-upright position. If you don’t have a recliner just get a lot of pillows and prop yourself up in bed. A sleep aid medication may be beneficial to get a good night’s sleep.
  • The first phase of recovery is passive ROM. This is when the therapist moves your arm into all planes of motion and you relax (at least try to relax). This will allow improving the elongation of the rotator cuff and prevent scarring and stiffness. There are modalities we can use to decrease your pain such as electrical stimulation and ultrasound.
  • Examples of active assistive motion are exercises such as pulleys, table slides, wall walks and supine dowel. These exercises are to allow for the non-surgical arm to help move the surgical arm and gain tolerance and motion of the shoulder. Active motion is initiated when there is healing in the tendon this may not start until weeks 6-12 per your doctor’s protocol but this also means you can move your arm on your own.
  • The strengthening phase is the most important, due to the surgery and recovery the muscles of the rotator cuff have become weak. Once the tendon has healed it is important to begin strengthening to allow for you to resume your normal activity. The therapist will instruct you on different techniques to engage the proper musculature to allow for the proper strengthening of your shoulder.

Keep in mind that every patient, tear, and surgery is different and everyone has a different outcome. These steps above are a helpful guideline, and the progress may be slower or faster depending on other factors. While it is tempting to compare progress with friends, family, or new acquaintances from therapy, their recovery may not be the same as yours!

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Tanya Ellis, COTA/L

Virginia Gay Hospital

Therapy Services