Thanks to surgical and physical therapy advances over recent years, rotator cuff surgery recovery won't keep you off the job or out of the gym as long as it once did. Rotator cuff tears are not uncommon in adults and are usually caused by acute trauma or repetitive overhead work such as painters or construction workers might perform. Once your physician diagnoses a tear and recommends surgery, you'll need to plan for a period of post-operative physical therapy. How long that therapy last depends on several factors:
- the severity of your tear;
- the type of surgery performed (open surgery requires longer healing compared to a minimally-invasive arthroscopic procedure);
- your pre-surgical physical condition;
- the type of cold and compression therapy provided by your physical therapist (PT) following surgery.
The last item is very important and one that you should proactively pursue with your PT. Cold (cryo)therapy is routinely used for rotator cuff surgery recovery because of its ability to reduce swelling and diminish pain. Compression therapy helps to restore normal physiologic processes in the damaged tissue more rapidly and speeds lymphatic drainage, which accelerates the healing process.
Here are 5 key things you should discuss with your surgeon and/or PT so your rotator cuff surgery recovery proceeds as rapidly and successfully as possible:
1. Not all cold and compression therapy is equal. Sure, if you want to go really old school, you can put crushed ice in a plastic bag or buy a bag of frozen peas and apply it to your shoulder. There are also systems that use ice water in a pad that's affixed to the shoulder with an elastic compression wrap, as well as devices that continuously circulate cold water through pads affixed with elastic wrap.
2. Comparative studies have shown these solutions to be less effective than a more advanced system that delivers both cold and compression therapy in an ergonomic wrap that's especially designed for delivering targeted shoulder therapy.
3. Though static compression is an effective way to reduce swelling, intermittent compression therapy is better for also optimizing lymphatic drainage. Active compression is especially helpful when a patient is not able to generate rhythmic muscle contractions that help stimulate tissue recovery.
4. Using a system that combines cold and intermittent compression therapy has been shown to reduce the number of post-surgical PT visits required. This means lower costs are incurred for therapy and a quicker return to normal functioning.
5. Post-surgical pain and the use of pain medication is an important issue for physicians and patients. Physicians want to make sure their patients don't become dependent on pain medication; patients want faster relief and the ability to function without being under the influence of powerful pain meds. Using a combined cryotherapy and intermittent compression system has been shown to improve short-term pain relief and reduce the use of pain meds. One patient who had undergone 2 prior shoulder surgeries before using this system after his third surgery found it helped reduce his pain and bruising and led to a faster recovery.
Don't be satisfied with 20th-century cold and compression technology for your rotator cuff surgery recovery. Ask for the system that's used by professional athletes as well as regular folks who want to get back to work as fast as possible. How can we help?