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Tips For Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery

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20 Apr 2023

Recovery from rotator cuff surgery or shoulder surgery can be hard. Things that were easy before your injury are suddenly a challenge and it’s really common to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of a lengthy recovery.

Here are some of our best tips for rotator cuff surgery recovery that will help you make good progress whilst remaining comfortable.

Rotator cuff surgery recovery tips: woman grabbing her shoulder

How Long Is Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery?

Recovery from rotator cuff surgery is different for everyone which is why it is so important to have everything in place to give you the best chance at a comfortable and quick recovery. You shouldn’t be putting any strain or pressure on the shoulder after surgery so it’s important to ask for help when you need it and be sure you’re prepared before the surgery happens.

The actual recovery time can vary depending on the size of the tear but you can expect to be able to resume most activities at around the 3-month mark with more vigorous activities taking slightly longer. Many patients can do activities like driving after a couple of weeks but this may be longer for severe tears. 

It’s important to protect the shoulder after surgery. The aim of rotator cuff surgery is to achieve full movement and strength with the correct rest and physiotherapy. You should always follow your doctor's advice following surgery.

Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery Tips

Recovery can be tough and it’s easy to feel frustrated by the process. Even more so when the injury means that you have limited movement or mobility or are finding usually simple tasks to be much more complex. 

Here are our top tips for rotator cuff surgery recovery.

Choose Comfortable or Adaptive Clothing

When you’re recovering from rotator cuff surgery, the operated area can be sore and swollen. It’s very common not to be able to wear the clothes you normally would because they’re too restrictive of the area or because they’re simply hard to put on. With rotator cuff injuries, you shouldn’t be reaching above or behind you for a number of weeks after surgery. There are plenty of clothing options that are comfortable and non-restrictive.

Bras can be particularly tricky following rotator cuff surgery and can take away independence if you rely on a loved one to help you. Luckily there are options. 

The best bras for after rotator cuff surgery are front-fastening and specially designed to be fastened with one hand. This means you aren’t putting strain on your shoulder by trying to fasten it yourself and you don’t need to rely on someone else to get dressed.

Rest

Rest following surgery is really important. You will, of course, need to rest the operated shoulder, but you should also try to rest generally. Your body's working overtime to try and heal the injured area so making sure you are taking care of yourself becomes very important.

Getting a good amount of sleep can be tricky after rotator cuff surgery because lying down is generally uncomfortable. It’s advised to try and sleep semi-upright to avoid putting pressure on the operated shoulder. Keeping your elbows down should help you to feel more comfortable and can help you get more rest.

Listen To Your Doctor

A torn rotator cuff can be a small tear or a more serious complete tear. Your doctor will advise you on what you should be doing to help your own recovery. You will likely have a sling and a physical therapy plan. Follow your doctor's advice for a speedy and, more importantly, full recovery. 

Complete Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is important for recovery from shoulder injuries. Regaining full movement in the joint is the primary goal and physical therapy is designed to help you achieve this. You should follow your own recovery plan and try not to over-exercise the joint. 

Most rotator cuff recovery plans will consist of 4 stages. First, a passive exercise stage where the shoulder is manually moved by a physical therapist, promoting mobility without strain. Secondly, there will be active movement, where you begin to strengthen the tendons by moving the arm or shoulder. After this, strengthening is the focus to promote long-term healing and prevent re-injury. Finally, full activity will involve doing familiar activities to strengthen the torn rotator cuff.

Pace Yourself

It’s really important to remember that every recovery is different. You need to pace yourself and focus on protecting and healing the joint as best you can. Rotator cuff surgery recovery can take anywhere from a few weeks to 12+ months, it’s different for everyone. The best thing you can do is be careful, make your recovery as comfortable as possible and try not to put too much pressure on yourself.

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