What happens after your rotator cuff surgery?

Your first postoperative clinic appointment will be approximately 10 to 14 days after discharge. At this time, the stitches will be removed from your shoulder. Because stitches will still be in place at the time of discharge, please keep the incision clean and dry and do not get your incision wet. Once your stitches have been removed, you may shower or bathe normally. During your hospital stay and after your discharge, you may apply a cooling device and take pain medication, if necessary, 1/2 hour before you exercise. Once the stitches have been removed, a hot shower is also helpful, prior to exercise. This aids in relaxation and helps to decrease pain.

After the initial postoperative appointment, your doctor will determine how many more appointments you will need. Driving is not recommended for the first month after rotator cuff surgery.

What do I need to know about physical therapy?

We stress the importance of physical therapy. Consider your physical therapist like a piano teacher who gives you instructions. You may do very well during your session with the teacher, but you must still go home and practice to improve.

It is important to realize that motion and pain are directly related. As motion improves from exercising, the pain will diminish. It is very common to have continued discomfort for four to six weeks after the operation, however, this usually only indicates more exercises are needed.

NOTE: Active elevation, or lifting your arm to the side, will damage the repair and may be very painful. Do not lift your shoulder this way (as shown in the illustration).

Your exercises will be divided into phases. Do not progress or go on to the following phase unless instructed by your doctor. By doing so, you may harm your shoulder.

Ordinarily, passive stretching exercises are done for several weeks after surgery. Strengthening exercises may begin 6 to 12 weeks after your surgery, as instructed by your doctor. This allows the muscles to heal well, repairing the tear entirely. As your motion slowly improves, you will be given different exercises.

Exercises are usually most difficult in the morning. You will probably feel stiff when you wake. This is normal. As you exercise, your shoulder will gradually loosen up and the stiff feeling will go away.

Once the rotator cuff has healed, be good to your shoulder by avoiding extra and unnecessary physical stress. Some ways to do this:

  • Always carry heavy objects close to your body.
  • Use good body mechanics, standing straight with your shoulders back.
  • In bed, avoid undue pressure on the affected shoulder by lying on your other side.

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