5 Steps To Recovering From Shoulder Surgery

When conservative therapies such as steroid shots and rest fail to ease your shoulder pain, you may need surgery. Men and women undergo shoulder surgery for a range of issues, especially to:

Surgery is just the first step in reducing your pain and restoring your shoulder function. What you do after surgery can be just as important, if not more important, in helping you achieve a healthy, pain-free shoulder.

Step 1: Immediately after surgery

Shoulder surgeries are usually performed on an outpatient basis, meaning you go home the same day with your arm in a sling or shoulder immobilizer. You are on prescription pain medication for about 48 hours. Over the next 10 days, you gradually wean from the pain medications and switch to anti-inflammatories, such as Tylenol, to manage discomfort.

During this time, you should keep your shoulder still and apply ice packs as needed to also help reduce swelling and pain.

Step 2: Slinging it

For four to six weeks following your operation, you wear a sling or immobilizer to keep your shoulder and arm as still as possible. The supportive device provides your shoulder with support and stability as you heal. During this time, you can use your wrist, hand, and fingers, but should limit moving your entire arm.

You gradually wean off the sling or immobilizer, going for longer and longer periods of time without it. How soon you come out of the sling depends on the type of surgical repair you underwent and your body’s response to healing.

Step 3: Physical therapy

You may start physical therapy while you’re still in a sling and continue with the supportive exercises once you’re out. Physical therapy’s goal is to restore strength and flexibility in your shoulder.

Your treatment plan will likely begin with gentle range-of-motion exercises and progress to more active exercises. Following your physical therapy plan precisely speeds healing.

Step 4: Gradually return to activity

After six to 12 weeks, you may start to use your arm more. You may perform a limited range of arm movements, but pushing or lifting heavy items is not allowed. You should not even support your body weight on the affected arm yet.

Depending on the type of surgery you had and your healing progress, you may return to light jogging or elliptical training. Some patients may be able to add light resistance work and swimming.

Step 5: Full recovery

Full recovery from surgery takes between three and six months. Your shoulder and arm have been relatively inactive for a long time, however, so caution is still warranted when resuming athletic activities or job functions that stress the shoulder.

The muscles of the area need time to strengthen, so follow your physical therapist’s treatment plan carefully. Doing too much too soon can set back your healing time.

The team at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists can help you every step of the way in your shoulder surgery — from preparing for the procedure and recovering to full function afterward.


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