Planning for rotator cuff surgery can come with the stress and uncertainty of a serious medical procedure paired with the excitement and relief of correcting a problem that impacts your lifestyle. Whether you want to return to athletic activity, restore full range of motion, or simply lift objects without pain, surgery to repair a damaged rotator cuff can have very positive outcomes.
Healing from any kind of medical procedure doesn’t happen overnight, so you should expect recovery from rotator cuff surgery to take time. The more you know about it before the big day, the better prepared you will be to go through the recovery process as safely and quickly as possible.
Some of the most common questions patients have about rotator cuff surgery recovery include:
1. What is the average recovery time?
The time it takes for full rotator cuff surgery recovery varies depending on a number of factors, but the typical range is four to six months. Your shoulder will have to be immobilized, typically by wearing a sling, for four to six weeks after the procedure. After that, you can use your shoulder, but you’ll need to be careful about how much weight you lift, repetitive motions, and other movements that could impact the healing process.
2. Can a torn rotator cuff heal on its own?
The body is very good at healing itself, but in the case of a full tear, surgery is generally recommended. For a partial tear, you can try resting the shoulder for a period of time, applying cold and compression therapy, and doing physical therapy exercises. However, if the rotator cuff does not heal after several months of trying this approach, surgery might be the best option.. People who experience weakness due to a torn rotator cuff might also prefer surgery so they can get back to their normal activity levels as quickly as possible..
3. How should you sleep on a torn rotator cuff?
Before the surgery, you might experience pain in your shoulder while resting. This can make it difficult to sleep or to find a comfortable position. Talk to your doctor about pain medications to take before bedtime. If you want to avoid medication, or even if you just want more relief, try applying cold and compression to your shoulder before going to bed. This may help dull the sensation of pain and help reduce inflammation in the damaged tissues.
After the surgery, you might have to adjust your sleeping position, especially if you are accustomed to sleeping flat on your back or on the side of the affected shoulder. Try propping up your back so your head and upper back are supported and slightly elevated and putting pillows under the affected arm to provide support in the shoulder joint. You can also try lying on your uninjured side or lying flat on your back with the affected arm supported by pillows.
4. How much time should I take off work after surgery?
Because rotator cuff surgery recovery time varies, it’s difficult to say how much time you may need to take off work. The type of work you do may also influence this decision. Most people can start doing light activities after a week or two, so if you have a job that is not physically demanding, you might be able to return more quickly. In general, you should assume that you could be out for at least a week as you recover from the procedure and give the inflammation time to subside.
If you have more questions about rotator cuff surgery recovery or any other upper extremity injuries, download our free e-book, The Complete Guide to Upper Extremity Injury and Surgery Recovery.