How to Recover From Rotator Cuff Surgery

By Josh Baum
Stretching and exercise is essential for building rehabilitating an injury.
Stretching and exercise is essential for building rehabilitating an injury.

Recovery from rotator cuff surgery is a process that will last several weeks. Though some surgical procedures, such as laparoscopic tendon repair, allow for faster recovery than more invasive procedures, diligent rest and physical therapy are required for a full and proper recovery. If you stick to the recovery plan, you can expect to fully resume playing golf and engaging in most normal activities in about three months.

Talk to your doctor extensively about your personal recovery process. No two rotator cuff injuries are exactly the same, and the same goes for surgery and the recovery process. Your doctor should prescribe a full recovery plan for you that includes rest, pain management and physical therapy. Don't deviate from the plan without consulting your doctor first.

Get plenty of rest and don't use your repaired shoulder for the first two weeks. Patients are often fitted with a sling following rotator cuff surgery, which will help discourage you from using your injured arm. Although you need to rest your shoulder as much as possible, you don't have to lie around all day. It is good to get moderate exercise like walking and stretching as long as you are careful about stabilizing your shoulder.

Manage your pain with prescription medication or anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medication. Ask your doctor what is best for your unique needs, as the ideal pain relief medication will depend on your pain level, allergies and other medical conditions. Any anti-inflammatory medication will not only temporarily relieve pain, it will also reduce swelling in your shoulder.

Gently cover your shoulder in a towel-wrapped ice pack several times a day to further reduce the swelling and relieve the pain. Don't keep ice on your shoulder for more than 30 minutes, though, and take at least an hour long break between applications.

Make arrangements for returning to work with your injury and recovery in mind. Unfortunately, rotator cuff injuries can be permanently debilitating, if only to a slight degree in some cases. Still, this may prohibit you from ever returning to work if your job requires very strenuous physical activity. For all but the most strenuous jobs, an eventual return to normal job activities is likely, but the more physical activity is required, the longer you may have to wait before starting up again. Work with your employer to arrange for a schedule of duties that your doctor will approve.

Begin physical therapy when it is recommended by your doctor. Physical therapy is a required part of a healthy recovery process in most cases. Follow your physical therapist's instructions precisely and diligently do any "homework" exercises you are given. Don't engage in exercise outside of your physical therapy plan without the permission of your doctor and physical therapist.

Resume light activities like driving and cooking only when your doctor says it is appropriate.

Resume golf, other sports and other strenuous activity only after a thorough examination that ends with your doctor declaring a complete recovery. This often occurs about three months after surgery, but may take longer. You may also need to maintain your physical therapy for some time beyond this point to make sure you rebuild your shoulder and arm muscles.

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