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Recovery From Rotator Cuff Surgery

Recovery From Rotator Cuff Surgery | UPMC in Ireland

If you're suffering from a debilitating and frustrating rotator cuff injury, you know that even the most basic things, like washing your hair or putting on a jacket, can be painful.

If your orthopaedic consultant recommends surgery, you may have questions such as: Is surgery the right option? How long does it take to recover and feel normal again?

While you should defer to your surgeon about surgery and recovery issues, here are general answers to some common patient questions.

Will I Need Rotator Cuff Surgery?

The main reason people have rotator cuff surgery is because they are in pain. If your pain lingers for 6 to12 months and you have exhausted all conservative treatment routes without improvement, your consultant may suggest surgery. Diagnostic imaging will also be used to assist in decision making around whether surgery is the best course of action.

Surgery may be a good option if pain is getting in the way of doing your job or playing the sport you love. For example, if the pain is too great when you lift your arms over your head, surgery may help. If your tear happened because of an acute injury like an accident or fall, surgery may be best.

How invasive is rotator cuff surgery?

There are three main ways surgeons repair rotator cuff tears:

  • Arthroscopic repair: This is the least invasive option, which involves a small incision. That's because the incision only has to be big enough to insert an arthroscope (a small camera). The surgeon uses images from the camera to perform the repair with very small surgical instruments.
  • Open repair: This is the most invasive option, in which surgeons use a traditional incision that's usually several centimetres long.
  • Mini-open repair: This procedure falls between open repair and arthroscopy in terms of invasiveness. It uses a blend of both techniques. The incision is bigger than arthroscopic repair, but not as big as traditional surgery.

How much pain will there be after surgery?

Your surgeon and nurses will work with you to develop a pain management plan. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are helpful for many people. 

How long will I have to wear a sling after surgery?

After surgery, you have to allow time for the tendon to heal. This means keeping your arm immobilised. You'll probably wear a sling for four to six weeks after surgery, depending on the severity of the tear. During that time, your surgeon may allow you to remove the sling for bathing and dressing.

Most people are comfortable performing light daily tasks (washing their face, eating, etc.) by six to eight weeks after surgery .

How Long Will Rehab Take After Rotator Cuff Surgery?

Once your surgeon gives you the OK to move your arm, you can begin physiotherapy. Your physio will start by helping your body with various movements to increase your range of motion.

Within four to six weeks, you may be able to do exercises without help. The goal of these exercises is to start strengthening your arm again. Depending on how well you do, you'll be doing an exercise programme on your own within a few months.

When Will I Be Able to Move My Arm Normally Again?

Everyone has a slightly different timetable for recovery. One thing that makes a big difference is how diligent you are with physiotherapy.

Most patients have their range of motion back within four to six months after surgery, but you'll likely need to keep working to regain normal strength.