Recovering From Shoulder Surgery For A Rotator Cuff Injury

You've torn the ligament that supports your shoulder joint, called the rotator cuff. The shoulder surgeon recommends arthroscopic surgery to repair the tear. This outpatient procedure is less invasive than traditional shoulder surgery and will let you regain the use of your shoulder sooner. Here is what you can expect from this surgery and the recovery afterwards.

It Starts as Outpatient Surgery

Your shoulder repair will be done in the surgeon's office or outpatient clinic. You'll go home shortly after the surgery. No hospital stay is required.

Before the procedure, you'll be given a local anesthetic in your shoulder to deaden the area in which the surgeon works. You can choose to stay awake during the procedure and watch it on monitors in the room as the surgeon repairs your shoulder. You can also request to be lightly sedated through the procedure.

The shoulder surgeon makes a couple of tiny incisions over the shoulder joint into which small tubes are inserted. One tube has a camera at the end which the surgeon uses to see into the shoulder joint. The other tube contains the instruments used to do the repair. Guided by the camera, the arthroscopic procedure allows the surgeon to repair the torn ligament with minimal disruption to the other soft tissues in your shoulder.

When the repair is completed, the tubes are withdrawn and small bandages are placed over the incisions. You'll then rest in a quiet area as the anesthesia wears off. The surgeon will check on you periodically and, once they are satisfied that you are not having any adverse reactions to the procedure, you'll be sent home.

Recovery Happens in Small Steps

You'll be sent home with your arm in a special sling that holds it close to your body. This keeps your shoulder in the right position for healing. Ligaments heal more slowly than other tissues in the body so you'll have your arm in this sling for several weeks. You'll be able to take the sling off to bathe and do physical therapy, otherwise, you'll keep it on to support your shoulder.

After a few days to let the tissues in your shoulder heal from the surgery, your doctor will have you begin physical therapy. The first goal of this therapy is to regain the normal range of motion in your stiff shoulder. Muscles that haven't been used for awhile become weak and contract. The physical therapist will help you slowly stretch out those muscles to their normal length.

This will be a slow process, during which time, you could re-injure your shoulder should you push yourself beyond the limits of what your shoulder can do. You'll set a pace of activity with the therapist and need to be patient as you make incremental progress getting normal movement back in your shoulder.

Your therapist will measure the amount of range of motion you have in your shoulder with each session. When satisfied with your progress, they will have you begin strength training. This phase of physical therapy strengthens the muscles that support your shoulder joint. Not only is this necessary to move your shoulder normally, but strong shoulder muscles prevent future injury to the ligaments in your shoulder.

This is also a slow process that takes time and patience. You'll be able to take your sling off more and use your shoulder for daily activities. Your diligence in doing the exercises given to you by the physical therapist and willingness to progress at a safe pace will help you to have a successful recovery from the shoulder injury.