Rotator cuff repair surgery is a fairly common procedure and is performed to fix tears in the rotator cuff. The surgery can include subacromial smoothing, which is where the space between the shoulder blade and rotator cuff tendons is cleared. 

Usually, rotator cuff repair recovery can take from 3-6 months of physical therapy after surgery. Immediately after your surgery, you will feel tired and this will last a few days. Your shoulder will also be swollen. 

Depending on your personal circumstances and your surgeon’s indication, your recovery and healing progress may vary in degrees. It may well take up to 6-12 months before you are able to use your shoulder and arm fully, which means you will have to build your strength and range of motion to near normal.

After surgery, your shoulder will be stiff which is why specific rehabilitation exercises will be shown to you by your physical therapist. If you experience pain that doesn’t seem to abate, you may need to see your surgeon again, so ensure you make follow-up appointments and don’t rely on painkillers.

The Three Phases of Rotator Cuff Repair

Stage One: 

Passive range of motion: The aim here is to provide protection for the repair while providing as much range of motion as feasibly possible and this phase usually lasts six weeks.

Stage Two: 

Active range of motion: This stage starts after the sling is removed and you are able to begin moving your arm and muscles in your shoulder yourself, without an external force.  This phase occurs from week 6 through week 12.

Stage Three: 

Functional strengthening: This is where you focus on strengthening and returning to more and more normal activities in daily life. This stage will start at week 12 until full strength is obtained.

Changes to Make For Rotator Cuff Repair Recovery

Dietary Changes

Ensure you maintain a healthy diet that promotes healing. You may find that you have strained bowel movements after surgery, a high-fiber diet will help combat this.

Movement and Care

Overall, it’s important to discuss what activities you can and can’t do with your physical therapist. The following are good places to start for the first six weeks:

  • Clench a fist and remove and insert your thumb as far as they will go at least 5 to 10 times in an hour. 
  • Ensure you always wear your sling to protect your shoulder. The only time you should take off the sling is if you are getting changed or partaking in physical activity.
  • When you have a shower, ensure you cover your shoulder to prevent it from getting wet. Perhaps a sponge bath may be more appropriate.
  • If the repair is on your writing arm, write only when appropriate.
  • Walking is encouraged to keep the blood flowing to your legs and to prevent blood clots.
  • When you are not wearing your sling, keep your elbows tight to the body.
  • For the first 4 or 5 days, you need to change your bandage and ensure you cover the incision point with a new bandage.

Your Comfort

  • Make sure you are fully comfortable. This will aid your recovery. 
  • You need to sleep. Sleeping will assist with the healing process, but make sure you sleep in a way that protects your injury.
  • Take a great deal of care with your surgical incisions to ensure they don’t come apart or get dirty.
  • In order to manage the pain, take medicine and use ice therapy, whether it be an ice pack or cooling gel.
  • Keep an eye on the movement of your hand to ensure that you are moving correctly.

Final Thoughts

While any operation can feel daunting, knowing what to do after the fact can drastically reduce the amount of stress you will experience before, during, and after your rotator cuff surgery. Most importantly, talking to your doctor to discuss the specifics of healing is essential for the operation to be considered a success.

Dr. Hatch is determined to help patients understand exactly how their procedures will be carried out and individualize their care for each case.

Contact us today to book an appointment to discuss your surgical and nonsurgical options today.