What to expect after Rotator Cuff Surgery

What Should You Expect?

​Surgery is a stressful experience for many people, but knowing what to expect can alleviate some of that worry.

Here are the necessary steps to know.
  • Preoperative clearance: Before undergoing surgery, your doctor will perform an exam to ensure you are healthy enough for surgery. Depending on your overall conditions, additional tests may be necessary. Your doctor will discuss any risks associated with the surgery and give you all the preoperative instructions you need, such as what medications you can and cannot take before the procedure.
  • The day of the surgery: The day of your scheduled surgery, you will need to avoid eating or drinking anything after midnight. When you arrive at the hospital, you will change into a surgical gown and wait to go to the operating room. (Don't forget to pack your SnapWear™ Post Surgery Shirt)
  • Anesthesia: Once you are in the operating room, an anesthesiologist will administer general anesthesia, a combination of medications that will put you to sleep for the duration of the surgery. You will not feel anything. The anesthesiologist may also administer a nerve block, which will numb the shoulder. Nerve blocks last after you wake up, so you will likely feel very little pain when you first wake up from the surgery.
  • Postoperative recovery: You will wake up in the postoperative recovery area of the hospital. After anesthesia, you may feel groggy or nauseous. These sensations are perfectly normal, and will wear off. Most arthroscopic rotator cuff repairs take place on an outpatient basis, which means you will be able to go home the same day as your procedure.


How Can You Manage Any Postoperative Pain and Discomfort?

Pain management is one of patients' most significant concerns following surgery. Anesthesia and a nerve block will help with pain the day of the surgery, but once you go home, you will be responsible for managing your pain. Your care team will help prepare you to return home to begin your recovery process. Here are some things you can do to stay comfortable after surgery.
  • Ice: Intermittently placing an ice pack on your shoulder will help alleviate some pain and reduce swelling. While you ice, be sure you do not get the incision area wet. Place a thin towel around the ice and apply it to your shoulder for approximately 20 minutes at a time.
  • Medications: Your doctor may prescribe you a pain reliever. You may also try different over-the-counter medications to help manage any pain. It is a good idea to check with your doctor before taking any pain medication. Some medications can have an impact on bleeding, while others might interact with what your doctor has prescribed. Always follow instructions carefully when taking any medication.
  • Sleeping: Sleeping is a vital part of recovery, but it may be a challenge immediately after the surgery. It can take up to six weeks after surgery to sleep comfortably in a horizontal position. You may find it easier to sleep in a reclining chair. Alternatively, you can prop yourself up on a bed using pillows. Be careful to prop the affected arm up and away from your body. If you prefer sleeping on your side, you can sleep on your other shoulder. 


How Long Does It Take to Recover From Rotator Cuff Surgery?

Recovery happens in a few different stages. The first step is managing your postoperative pain. Although your arm will likely be immobilized in a sling for four to six weeks after the surgery, you can return to most of your normal activities within a few days of surgery. You will be able to drive and walk, but remember you will be doing these things with one arm. During your recovery period, you will work with your physical therapist to regain motion and strengthen the area. The rotator cuff surgery recovery timeline can vary case by case, but a full recovery typically takes four to six months. It may take longer than that to return to heavy lifting. Talk to your doctor and physical therapist before resuming any workout routines or going back to a job that will put significant strain on your shoulder.


What Should You Expect From Postoperative Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a big part of postoperative rotator cuff treatment. Your physical therapist will start by introducing passive motion to the shoulder. He or she will carefully move your arm for you to ensure the recovering muscles and tendons are not under excessive strain. When you are ready, your physical therapy will progress to active motion, which means your therapist will instruct you how to move your arm. Finally, you will begin to work on strengthening the shoulder with resistance exercises. While you will have regularly scheduled physical therapy appointments, your therapist will likely give you daily at-home exercises to do. Rotator cuff tear rehab will usually last at least a few months after the surgery.


How Can You Help Prevent Future Rotator Cuff Injuries?

Once you reach full recovery, you will probably want to put the injury out of your mind and move forward with your life. While it is wonderful you can get back to the activities you love, you will want to take precautions to prevent re-injury of the rotator cuff.
  • Exercise: You can continue to do the rotator cuff tear exercises you learned in physical therapy to keep your shoulder strong. Go back to the other types of exercise you loved before surgery. Maintaining physical fitness helps keep your body healthy and prevents future injuries.
  • Don't push yourself: Consider asking for help the next time you need to lift something heavy. If you do want to go back to lifting, either for exercise or work, make sure your doctor and physical therapist have cleared you to do so, and ensure you are lifting in a way that keeps your body safe. If you notice your shoulder feels sore or tender, stop what you are doing. If you push yourself too far, you can retear the repaired tendon or tendons.



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