Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair: Your Guide to an Optimal Recovery

Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair: Your Guide to an Optimal Recovery

Your shoulder pain isn't getting any better. You've learned that your rotator cuff is torn or partially torn. Your rotator cuff comprises muscles and tendons that work together to keep your shoulder in place while enabling arm extension and rotation overhead, sideways, and backward. The joint's complexity enables various movements, but healing is a months-long process when damaged. 

You may have tried physical therapy to help heal your shoulder, but physical therapy may not work when the tear is significant. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Shults, performs many arthroscopic rotator cuff repairs with Coastal Empire Orthopedics. 

A good watchword for rotator cuff repair is patience. Recovery entails the following three phases. Your recovery timeline depends on the size and complexity of the tear and your commitment to physical therapy during the healing process. 

Rest and stabilization 

During the first phase, which lasts about six weeks, you rest the shoulder and focus on pain control and easing swelling. Dr. Shults provides prescription pain relievers for a short time. Then, you can move to over-the-counter pain medication. You use ice packs to calm swelling and ease discomfort. 

You'll need help from family or friends during the first weeks after surgery. Your arm is in a sling, which stabilizes and protects it. Only Dr. Shults or a physical therapist moves your shoulder during the first several weeks. They move your shoulder in a way that doesn't use your rotator cuff muscles. In some cases, Dr. Shults may have you do some stretches during this phase, but with your arm against your body. 

You'll find that sleeping in a recliner provides the best rest at night. Recliners are available for rental, but if you don't have one, prop up pillows so your elbow points downward. 

Your incision must remain dry during this period. To keep the area dry, you can purchase a shoulder shirt. A shower chair is also helpful in preventing a fall. 

Active motion with physical therapy 

Around week six, your therapist will help you perform simple range-of-motion movements, such as moving your arm away from your body. You'll start exercises that help reduce stiffness and improve your range of motion. 

Your therapist provides instructions on how to do the exercises that you do during your therapy appointments at home. You must commit to doing the exercises each day for the number of times your therapist recommends. The exercises help ensure against permanent stiffness and poor range of motion in your shoulder.  

Strengthening with physical therapy 

The next phase of your recovery involves strengthening your weak muscles from lack of use. During this phase, you'll work with resistance bands and/or light weights. 

You'll need to do your exercises at home, as you've already been doing since you started therapy. Doing your exercises as instructed helps ensure an optimal recovery. Your total time in physical therapy is usually about three months. 

When physical therapy ends, Dr. Shults provides instructions on what you can and can't do. Only make pushing, pulling, or lifting motions once Dr. Shults gives you the all-clear. If you're a weightlifter, you may need more time to start lifting heavy weights. 

If you have a small tear, healing may occur in four months, and for a major tear, it may take six months to a year. In any case, it may take up to a year for the shoulder to feel normal again.

Call Coastal Empire Orthopedics or book an appointment through our online portal for all your orthopedic needs.

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