best ways incorporate physical therapy for shoulder surgery patients.jpgFor the majority of patients, shoulder surgery is a one-time event that has a major impact on their lives. Most people don’t know what to expect before, during, and after the procedure, but the more you, as a healthcare professional, can help prepare them, the more successful the recovery process will be. Some of the essential elements of recovering from shoulder surgery are:

  • Ample rest to allow healing
  • Proper hydration
  • Physical therapy
  • Shoulder compression sleeves
  • Therapeutic cold and/or heat as appropriate

It’s important for patients to understand that they play a key role in their own recovery and that being proactive will help them return to normal activity more quickly. Participating in physical therapy is one of the best ways to promote recovery and achieve a safe return to a typical daily routine.

When to Start Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for shoulder surgery can start on the day after the procedure. Depending on the type of procedure, physical therapy will be recommended for several months for a full recovery.

Best Physical Therapy Exercises for a Fast Recovery

The primary goals of physical therapy for shoulder surgery are to strengthen the muscles and tissues surrounding the joint and to help patients recover as quickly as possible. Additional objectives include improving range of motion, decreasing pain, and improving overall functional use. Here are the stages of recovery and some recommended exercises that are included in these stages:

Immediate Post-Surgical Phase

The shoulder should be immobilized for the first four weeks after surgery, except during physical therapy. Exercises should be limited to those that do not require active range of motion, lifting weight, or excessive stretching. Some examples are:

  • Shoulder pendulums for gentle mobilization
  • Isometric exercises for strengthening
  • Wrist flexion and extension
  • Hand gripping exercises
  • Neck active range of motion

Protection Phase

During weeks 4 to 10 after the procedure, soft tissues in the shoulder joint are actively healing, so it is important not to introduce too much activity during physical therapy. The goal during this phase is to restore passive range of motion while still avoiding lifting any weight. Appropriate physical therapy activities may include:

  • Assisted active range-of-motion exercises
  • Gentle joint mobilization
  • Prone rowing to neutral
  • Isometric exercises for strengthening
  • Shoulder flexion and abduction

Intermediate Phase

Ten to 14 weeks after surgery, patients can start to regain full range of motion and restore strength and flexibility. During the last weeks of this phase, many patients start to return to functional activity but are still limited to lifting only very light objects. Recommended exercises may include:

  • Dynamic stabilization exercises
  • Internal and external rotation with resistance bands
  • Lateral raises
  • Prone rowing
  • Prone extension
  • Prone horizontal abduction

Advanced Strengthening Phase

The remaining recovery time is dedicated to returning to normal activity levels by increasing strength, flexibility, and active range of motion. Physical therapy generally includes:

  • Advanced conditioning exercises
  • Adding more weight to the strengthening exercises listed above
  • Continued range-of-motion stretching

Unfortunately, physical therapy is not always the most exciting way to spend one’s time, which is why compliance can be an issue for many patients. If this is the case with some of your patients, find a few physical therapy apps that will help them stay motivated to do their exercises at home.

Additional Tips for Shoulder Surgery Recovery

In addition to participating in physical therapy, patients can help promote recovery using these tips:


It can be difficult for patients with active lifestyles to slow down for the several months it takes to fully recover from shoulder surgery. Stress the importance of getting ample rest and good, quality sleep, especially in the several weeks immediately after the procedure. Explain to patients that the body needs to conserve energy so that it can commit the necessary resources to repairing damaged tissues for a faster recovery.


Staying hydrated also contributes to faster healing. Recommend that patients keep a water bottle nearby to replenish fluids and increase circulation of oxygenated blood. This is another opportunity to employ a mobile app with reminders for consistently drinking water throughout the day.

Shoulder Compression Wraps

Using a shoulder compression wrap that delivers both therapeutic heat and cold will help promote a faster recovery. In the initial healing phase, patients should use only cold to help reduce swelling and help control pain. As recovery progresses, therapeutic heat can be used to relax sore muscles before or after physical therapy.

If you would like to learn more about how a Game Ready shoulder compression sleeve can help your patients recover from shoulder surgery, download The Complete Guide to Upper Extremity Injury and Surgery Recovery today. It’s also a valuable resource for your patients who are preparing for a procedure and the accompanying physical therapy for shoulder surgery.   

download guide to upper extremity injury and surgery recovery