Rotator cuff surgery is a common procedure aimed at repairing the tendons in the shoulder joint. The shoulder is used to perform a variety of tasks daily, and the high demands placed on the joint can result in pain and injury to the muscles and tendons supporting it.
If you are scheduled for rotator cuff surgery or are considering getting the procedure, understanding what to expect and how to maximize healing can help with a successful outcome.
Understanding the Recovery Timeline
The recovery timeline after rotator cuff surgery can vary; however, here’s a general overview of what to expect:
Immediate Post-operative Period (0-8 weeks)
Immediately after surgery, patients typically require a period of rest to allow the tendon to heal properly. During this time, following the doctor’s instructions regarding immobilization and wearing a sling is important. This stage usually takes a minimum of 6-8 weeks.
Patients may experience pain, swelling, and limited range of motion during this early phase. Physical therapy may begin in the later part of this stage or the beginning of the next stage.
At around the four-week mark, the initial healing process is underway. By this time, the incisions have started to heal, and scar tissue is forming. Patients may still experience some pain and discomfort, and range of motion may be limited.
Around three months post-surgery, the tendon should regain its full strength for small tears. However, complete recovery can take about four to six months for larger tears. Physical therapy is crucial in this stage, focusing on gradually increasing the range of motion and strength exercises to promote healing and functional recovery.
For severe or massive tears, the complete recovery timeline can extend from six to twelve months. This extended timeframe accounts for the more extensive nature of the injury and the additional time required for the tendon to fully heal and regain optimal strength.
Patients should continue with rehabilitation exercises, follow up with their doctor, and monitor progress closely during this period.
At the 12-week mark, most patients can typically return to most activities of daily living. However, participation in vigorous sports may still be restricted during this stage. The primary goal at this point is to achieve a full range of motion and strength in the shoulder joint.
Continued adherence to physical therapy exercises, gradually increasing activity levels, and listening to the body’s cues are important for a successful recovery.
Maximizing Healing and Recovery
While the recovery process can be challenging, there are several steps you can take to maximize healing and facilitate a speedier recovery:
#1 Follow Post-Operative Instructions
It is essential to adhere to the post-operative care guidelines provided by your surgeon. For example, wear your sling, which keeps your shoulder immobilized and allows the tendon to heal properly. The sling provides stability and support, constantly reminding you to avoid moving your arm excessively.
Additionally, take your prescribed medications, including pain medication and antibiotics, to prevent an infection, and follow instructions on how to care for your incision.
#2 Mind Your Sleep Position
Sleeping in a partially upright position is recommended after rotator cuff surgery, as it provides comfort and reduces pressure on the shoulder compared to lying flat. You can use pillows to support your upper body or elevate the mattress slightly.
Another option is to sleep in a recliner or wide armchair, which can provide added support for your arm and shoulder.
#3 Use Cold Therapy
Applying ice packs or cold compresses to the shoulder area can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain during the early stages of recovery. Be sure to follow proper icing techniques, such as not going beyond 20 minutes at a time.
#4 Commit to Your Physical Therapy Program
Physical therapy is part of recovery and helps restore strength and mobility to the shoulder. Perform a gentle range of motion exercises as recommended by your orthopedic doctor or physical therapist. These exercises help prevent stiffness and promote flexibility in the shoulder joint, and you should be able to perform them at home.
Work closely with your orthopedic care team, who can guide you through the exercises and phases of recovery.
#5 Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep can contribute to overall healing and well-being. These lifestyle factors play a significant role in supporting the body’s natural healing processes.
#6 Gradually Increase Activity
As you recover, gradually reintroduce activities and exercises that engage the shoulder joint. Listen to your body and avoid overexertion, allowing ample time for healing and adaptation.
#7 Ask for Assistance
The recovery process from rotator cuff surgery can pose some challenges. Plan for your recovery by arranging for assistance especially during the initial stages of recovery. Moreover, reach out to family and friends for emotional support throughout your journey.
Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment in Carmel, Indiana
Dr. Stephen Jacobsen at Total Shoulder is a top shoulder surgeon in Carmel, Indiana, recognized for his high-quality and comprehensive treatment for various shoulder conditions. Dr. Jacobsen is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon highly experienced in the treatment of rotator cuff tears and tendinopathy.
We have a very compassionate team of orthopedic specialists at Total Shoulder committed to relieving your shoulder pain injury symptoms and getting back to the normal use of your shoulder.