Recovering From A Torn Rotator Cuff

It took only a second to injure your shoulder when taking down that heavy box from the shelf in the garage. Now you're looking ahead to several weeks of recovery to gain back the full use of your shoulder. The process takes time and requires patience. Here is what you can expect after the surgery to repair the damaged ligaments in your shoulder.  

Going Home After Arthroscopic Repair of Your Shoulder

The orthopedic surgeon recommended arthroscopic repair of the torn ligaments. This is a less invasive procedure than traditional surgery. The surgery is done in an outpatient clinic so you won't have a hospital stay. Before you go home, the doctor and staff will prepare you to start your recovery.

After the surgery, your arm will be in a special sling that holds the shoulder close to your body. This keeps the shoulder in a neutral position to help the tissue healing process. You'll wear the sling constantly for several weeks, taking your arm out only to bathe. During that time, you'll have limited use of your arm for daily activities. You'll be shown some exercises to keep your elbow, wrist and hand limber.

You'll be given instructions as to how much you can move your arm and shoulder in the sling. You'll also be given prescriptions for pain medication and a date for a follow-up appointment in a few days with your doctor. Then it's time to go home and begin your recovery.

The Days Before the Follow-Up Appointment

This is a time when you'll need to let your shoulder rest. Ligaments heal slowly compared to muscles and other soft tissues. The surgery repaired the torn ligaments, but it will take several weeks for the reconnected ligaments to fully heal. During this time, you're at risk of re-injuring your shoulder if you overwork it. The sling helps to make sure you don't put stress on your shoulder.

Beginning the Next Phase of Recovery

Your doctor will evaluate the healing progress of your shoulder at your follow-up appointment. If they are satisfied with the progress, they will have you begin a program of physical therapy. This will require several weeks of work to gain back the motion and strength in your shoulder.

Regaining Use of Your Shoulder

You'll work with a physical therapist in their clinic and you'll be given exercises to do at home. During the weeks of physical therapy, you'll set a pace with the therapist so you make incremental progress without placing too much stress on your shoulder. For some time, you'll still be at risk of re-injuring the ligaments if you push your shoulder beyond what it is capable of.   

The physical therapy will be done in two phases:

Range of motion - This phase stretches out the tight muscles in your shoulder so you can move the joint around in its normal movements. The therapist will begin by doing passive motions, in which they move the shoulder for you to carefully stretch the muscles. After several days of this, you'll start active range of motion exercises in which you move the shoulder itself through all directions. During this phase, you'll continue to keep your arm in the sling when not doing physical therapy.

Muscle strengthening - Once your shoulder has nearly reached its normal range of motion, you'll start strengthening the muscles in and around the shoulder joint. The physical therapist (such as one from Advance Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation) will have you work on resistance machines in their clinic. You'll also do exercises at home to slowly build up muscle strength. You'll now be able to take your arm out of the sling for longer periods and use it more for daily activities.

The recovery process takes several weeks and requires patience and sticking to a pace that's productive, but not stressful. If you become impatience and push yourself too hard, you'll risk delaying your recovery.