Post-operative care for rotator cuff surgery

Post-operative care for rotator cuff surgery

After surgery, your shoulder will be placed in a sling as directed by your doctor. Slings are used to limit movement of the shoulder so that the rotator cuff tendons can merge and heal. In some cases where care must be taken to protect the repair, you can place your arms in a sling and tie a pillow around your waist. It is important to wear the shoulder support as directed by your doctor after surgery.

Slings are usually used 4 to 6 weeks after surgery.

  • You should not do any reaching, lifting, pushing, or pulling with your shoulder for the first six weeks after surgery.
  • You should not reach behind your back with the surgical arm.
  • You can take your arms off the sling, bend and straighten your elbows, and move your fingers a few times a day.
  • You can take off the sling for bathing, dressing, and elbow activity several times a day.

your diet

We recommend that you eat a light diet the night of your surgery and the next day. You can resume your normal diet as long as you can tolerate it.

pain management

When you leave the hospital, you will be given a prescription for pain medication. You can take this medicine as prescribed.

ice therapy

You can choose to buy a cold bag machine. This machine has a sleeve over the ice cooler. You put ice and some water in the cooler and plug it into a regular outlet. This circulates cold water through the rotator cuff, which relieves pain and swelling after surgery. If you don't buy ice packs, you can use ice packs or frozen vegetable bags to ice your shoulders.

You should put ice on your shoulder for the first 48-72 hours after surgery.

Ice your shoulders two to three times a day for the first week, especially before bed.

We recommend that you put a T-shirt or a thin towel between the sleeves to avoid hurting your skin.

Caring for your surgical incision

If you do not have a pain catheter, you can remove the dressing and shower 48 hours after the procedure. If you had a biceps tenodesis, you should keep the dressing on for five days after the procedure.

If you have a pain relief catheter, it should be removed with a shoulder dressing by a family member 72 hours after surgery before showering.

You shouldn't go into a bathtub or swimming pool and submerge the cut underwater for six weeks, but you can go into the shower and let the water run through them. The incision is then patted dry, and a Band-Aid is placed over the incision. There is no need to apply any ointment to the incision.

Call the office if you notice increased fluid, swelling, or pain 5 days after surgery.

Redness around the incision is common and shouldn't be a problem. However, please call our office if you:

  • Redness and drainage five days after surgery
  • red spreads from the cut
  • redness and fever


It is often difficult to sleep during the week or two following rotator cuff surgery. The surgery itself may interfere with your sleep-wake cycle. In addition, many patients have increased shoulder pain when they lie flat. We recommend that you try sleeping on a recliner or in bed. You can place a pillow between your body and your arms and behind your elbows to keep your arms slightly away from your body. A sling should be worn while sleeping.


Since you do not have access to the surgical arm, operating a motor vehicle can be difficult. If you are involved in an accident or are pulled over while wearing a sling, authorities may assume that you are driving with damage. The decision to drive is based on your comfort level, basically one-handed driving. If you need to drive and have already had a rotator cuff repair, you should wait at least until you

See your surgeon at your first postoperative visit. No one should drive a motor vehicle while taking narcotics.

healing and recovery

Tendon tissue heals much more slowly than other tissues in your body. For example, if you cut your skin, it usually heals within 7 to 10 days. However, the rotator cuff tendon tissue heals within three months. After three months, it usually takes another two to three months to recover well

Shoulder strength, depending on the size of the rotator cuff tear. While the goal of surgery is to restore a painless and functional shoulder, there may be some limitations depending on age and the size of the tear. In larger tears or tears in older patients, tendon repair may not heal. In these cases, pain relief and function are generally good; however, there is often still some weakness in the shoulder. Overall, approximately 90% of patients were satisfied with their shoulders after rotator cuff repair, with significant improvement in postoperative pain and function.


The decision to prescribe physical therapy and when to start these activities is made on a case-by-case basis. This will be discussed with you at your first postoperative visit. Your surgeon or recovery room nurse may instruct you to start a gentle range of motion on the day of surgery. These will be self-directed exercises that you start on your own.

Surgical Risks and Complications

The list below includes some common side effects that can occur with this procedure. Fortunately complications are rare. Note that this list includes some but not all possible side effects or complications.

Complications may include: complications from anesthesia, infection (very rare for arthroscopic surgery), nerve damage (very rare), blood vessel damage (very rare), bleeding (very rare), stiffness in the shoulder, repair failure (tendons that do not fully heal to the bones), failed anchors or sutures, failed to improve your symptoms as you hoped, blood clots formed in your arms or legs and rarely spread to your lungs, complex localized pain syndrome ( a painful condition involving the arm).

What you need to know about wearing a shoulder brace

5 Tips for Speeding Recovery from Rotator Cuff Surgery

1. Wear a shoulder brace or sling

After surgery, your doctor will give you a sling or shoulder immobilizer to limit your arm movement. The length of time you wear a sling or immobilizer depends on the extent of your rotator cuff injury and the type of surgery you have had.

For many rotator cuff procedures, you will need to wear a sling or immobilizer at all times for 4-6 weeks. During this time, you can move your hands, wrists, and fingers, but all movement of your arms is restricted.

2. Attend physical therapy

Physical therapy is an important part of your recovery process. The program includes specially designed exercises to increase your shoulder strength, flexibility, and range of motion as it heals.

In most cases, rotator cuff physical therapy begins with gentle passive exercises while your therapist supports and moves your arm. With your doctor's approval, you can perform active shoulder exercises on your own. These exercises can speed up your recovery and help you return to an active lifestyle sooner.

3. Stop pain medication as soon as possible

It's normal to feel pain and discomfort after rotator cuff surgery -- or pretty much any surgery, for that matter. While medication can increase your comfort while you recover, it can also mask your pain during physical therapy. This reduced feeling can easily overmobilize you and inadvertently set your recovery back.

The sooner you can comfortably get off your pain medication after surgery, the easier it will be to assess your recovery so you can adjust your physical activity as needed.

4. Avoid certain shoulder positions and arm movements

During recovery, it is critical to avoid movements that may interfere with your recovery. These actions usually include:

  • lift object
  • put weight on shoulders or arms
  • reach the back of your body
  • Raise your arms above your head
  • move arm aside

It's also important to avoid certain positions that put pressure on your shoulders while sleeping, such as lying flat on your back or on the affected side.

5. Don’t rush recovery

No matter how well you feel, it's important to listen to your doctor and follow their advice after your rotator cuff surgery. Even if you feel little pain, activities that put pressure on your shoulder can significantly increase your risk of re-injury. Returning to physical activity before the shoulder heals can also increase the chance of straining other parts of the body, such as the elbow or spine.

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