What To Expect While Recovering From Rotator Cuff Surgery

Recovering from rotator cuff surgery is a long process. In fact, it typically takes between four and six months before patients completely recover from having their rotator cuff repaired. During the recovery process, it's extremely important that you follow the instructions given to you by your shoulder surgeon and/or physical therapist so that your recovery goes as smooth as possible. Learn more about rotator cuff surgery and what to expect during the recovery process.

Immediately After Surgery

After you've had rotator cuff surgery, your arm will be in a sling until your surgeon allows you to remove it. Depending on the size of the muscle tear that was repaired, your doctor might place your shoulder in an immobilizer. The immobilizer keeps your shoulder from moving while the muscles are beginning to heal.

Even though your arm will be in a sling and possibly an immobilizer for a majority of the day, you'll begin doing shoulder exercises the day after surgery. In the beginning, you won't do your exercises alone. Instead, a physical therapist or a machine will guide your shoulder through a series of range of motion exercises so that the joint doesn't become stiff.

Six to Eight Weeks Post-Op

Six to eight weeks after your surgery, you'll begin active exercises in physical therapy. During this part of the physical therapy process, your therapist will help you complete various range of motion and stretching exercises designed to increase the range of motion in your shoulder. Some of the exercises that you may be asked to do include:

  • Lifting your arm above your head while keeping your elbow straight. Your physical therapist may recommend that you complete this exercise either lying down or sitting up, depending on the amount of strength in your shoulder.
  • Using your fingers to "crawl" up the wall while your arm is completely straight.
  • Raising your arm out to your side with your elbow straight and your palm down.
  • Rocking your body to move your arm in a circular motion while you are bent forward at a 90 degree angle.

Three to Six Months Post-Op

You'll begin strengthening exercises around three months post-op and continue them until your shoulder is completely healed. During this time, it's extremely important that you follow your physical therapist's instructions closely, because even though you need to strengthen your arm, the tendon is still attaching itself to the bone. Fortunately, there are several exercises that you can do using light weights so that you don't damage your healing joint. Your physical therapist might recommend:

  • Lifting a light weight while raising your arm at the elbow. This is typically done while you lay on your side so that your shoulder is situated between your body and the bed. This way, your shoulder doesn't move a lot during the exercise.
  • Lifting your arm away from your body while holding a light weight. To do this exercise, you'll lay on a bed, with your injured shoulder away from the bed, and hold your arm at a 90 degree angle. Then, you'll slowly lift your arm into the air, away from your body.
  • Pushing your arm against the back of a chair, and holding that position for five seconds.

Recovering from rotator cuff surgery takes a lot of patience and hard work. However, by following your shoulder surgeon's and physical therapist's instructions, the process will be a lot easier.