Sports Medicine

July 25, 2016

5 Tips for Recovering from Rotator Cuff Surgery & Returning to the Game


Rotator cuff surgery can provide relief from pain caused by a torn shoulder tendon, but it can take longer than you may anticipate to fully recover. These rotator cuff surgery recovery tips can help ensure that you heal properly, so you can resume participating in sports and other physical activities.

Rotator cuff surgery repairs partial or complete tears of the shoulder tendon as well as shoulder tendinitis, which can cause chronic pain and affect you shoulder function, preventing you from participating in physical activities. After you have had surgery, your recovery time will depend on the severity of your injury. Making a full recovery and being able to resume your usual athletic activities can take between four to six months. During this period, you need to allow your shoulder adequate time to heal while following these rotator cuff surgery recovery tips.

  • Wear Your Sling or Shoulder Immobilizer

A shoulder sling or immobilizer provides your shoulder with support and stability while you heal. Your sling or immobilizer should be worn at all times or as often as your Arkansas sports medicine doctor instructs. While you have this device on, which is usually for four to six weeks after surgery, avoid moving your entire arm. You can move your wrist, hand, and fingers around, but limit the full motion of your arm. Follow your doctor’s instructions on when you can start taking the sling or immobilizer off, which you will do gradually for longer and longer periods of time.

  • Participate in Physical Therapy

Your sports medicine doctor will refer you to a physical therapist and recommend seeing them regularly, especially if you have had a severe rotator cuff tear. Physical therapy helps you regain strength and flexibility in your shoulder while it heals. Physical therapy will most likely begin with series of gentle passive range-of-motion exercises. The active shoulder exercises that you will be doing after this can help your injury heal faster, so you can return to your active lifestyle sooner. Follow all of your physical therapist’s instructions on how and when to do these exercises to get the maximum benefit.

  • Avoid Certain Arm Movements and Shoulder Positions

As you recover from rotator cuff surgery, avoid moving your arm or shoulder in the following ways, all of which can interfere with the healing process.

  1. Raising your arm over your head
  2. Lifting objects
  3. Putting weight on your arm or shoulder
  4. Reaching behind your body
  5. Moving your arm out to the side

When you sleep, you should also avoid lying flat on your back, which can put too much pressure on your shoulder. Instead, prop your upper body up with cushions or pillows.

  • Watch for Signs of Complications

Complications from rotator cuff surgery, such as infections or nerve damage, are rare, but it is important to be aware of the potential warning signs. Let your doctor know right away if you experience any of these symptoms:

  1. Fever of 101 degrees or higher
  2. Redness or yellow discharge at your incision sites
  3. Sudden and severe pain or pain that does not respond to medication
  4. Tingling or numbness in your hand or fingers on the affected side
  5. Do Not Resume Athletic Activities Too Early

Even if you are feeling very little pain, you still need to maintain your doctor’s recommended recovery time after rotator cuff surgery. Trying to play sports, doing challenging exercises, or performing other activities that put strain on your shoulder can increase your risk of injuring it again. You also run the risk of injuring other parts of your body, such as your spine or elbow, when you resume physical activities before you are really ready. Once your doctor tells you that is it safe to play sports again, which is typically when you have regained full muscle strength and have no pain in your shoulder, you will need to return to physical activities gradually.

If you are experiencing pain in your rotator cuff, contact a sports medicine doctor at Arkansas Surgical Hospital at (877) 918-7020 to schedule an appointment.

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