Recovering from rotator cuff surgery usually takes 4 to 6 months, but a full recovery can take up to a year. Even when surgery and rehabilitation are successful, the repaired rotator cuff tendon is prone to re-injury up to 12 months following the procedure.
There are several general precautions to be aware of immediately following rotator cuff surgery:
- After being observed in the recovery room, where vitals are checked and stabilized, patients are discharged to go home or to their hospital room.
- Assistance with daily activities, from shopping to self-care, is often needed the several weeks following the surgery. This is because postoperative movement is limited: patients are advised not to push, pull, and lift anything weighing over a pound for the first six weeks following surgery; driving is also not advised during this time.
- Keep the shoulder clean and dry. Try to prevent the operated area from getting wet when bathing by covering it with a plastic bag, for example. Once permitted, softly cleanse the surgical site. Avoid placing oils or ointments on the affected area, unless advised by the physician.
- When sleeping, keep the operated arm in a sling and propped on a pillow away from the body.
- Alert the physician if numbness develops in the operated arm, or if any of the following incidents occur around the site of incision:
- Increased pain
Patients are advised to gradually restart activities, after the shoulder has mostly regained strength, range of motion, and comfort.5
Follow the Physician's Instructions After Surgery
It is critical to follow the physician’s instructions regarding post-surgical care, including:
- Pain relievers. Since certain medications impact bleeding, it is important to follow instructions on pain reliever types and dosage amounts.
- Arm sling or immobilizer. While the affected area heals, the arm is secured by an arm sling or immobilizer to prevent inadvertent arm movement. Patients may wear the sling for 4 to 6 weeks following surgery.
- Ice. Patients may be instructed to ice the shoulder for about 20 minutes several times a day during the first couple of days following surgery. Cover the ice pack with a towel or cloth to prevent ice burn.
- Mild movements. Mild arm movements, such as hand to mouth movement, are generally allowed during the second to sixth week after surgery. Patients should follow medical professionals’ instructions, and ask questions if they are unsure if certain movements are okay.
- Physical Therapy. Rehabilitation exercises are critical to regaining shoulder strength and range of motion. This process begins with passive exercises and progresses to active ones.
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Even patients who follow all post-operative instructions are vulnerable to re-injuring the rotator cuff during the year following surgery.