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Recovering From Arthroscopic Shoulder Repair

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You're scheduled for arthroscopic surgery with an orthopedic surgeon to repair a torn rotator cuff. This is a less invasive procedure than traditional shoulder surgery, but a full recovery to regain the use of your shoulder will still take weeks. Here is what you can expect immediately after the surgery and the weeks following at home recovering.

Preparing to Go Home After the Surgery

Once the arthroscopic surgery is completed, you'll be taken to a recovery area to rest while the anesthetic wears off. You'll have two small bandages on your shoulder over the incisions made to access your shoulder joint. Your arm will also be in a sling that holds your arm and shoulder snug against your body.

You'll be given instructions as to how to monitor your shoulder for any abnormal bleeding and pain. Your doctor will have you keep your arm in the sling for a few weeks, only taking it off when you bathe. You'll also be given some exercises to do to keep your hand, wrist and elbow limber while your arm must be in the sling.

Before you leave the outpatient clinic, you'll be given prescriptions for pain medication and a time for a follow up appointment with your orthopedic surgeon in a few days.

The Days Before The Follow Up Appointment

Your first few days at home before your appointment will be spent resting your shoulder. The ligaments that make up the rotator cuff have little blood supply in them, so they heal very slowly. These few days of rest give your shoulder tissues a chance to start healing.

When you go in for your follow up appointment, your doctor will evaluate your healing progress. If they are satisfied with the healing in your shoulder, they will start you on your next phase of recovery - physical therapy.

Range of Motion Therapy

The first phase of physical therapy will help you regain the normal range of motion in your shoulder joint. The muscles and tendons will be tight because of disuse and your shoulder will feel stiff. The physical therapist will approach this phase in two steps:

Passive motion - The therapist will move your shoulder slowly through its normal range of motion to stretch out the tense tendons and muscles. They will also show you how to move your shoulder through those motions with your other arm between sessions. Active motion - Once the muscles begin to loosen up, the therapist will have you move the arm itself through the motions. You'll set a pace with the therapist so you don't re-injure the shoulder. The rotator cuff is still healing at this point and you could tear it again by overworking your shoulder.

You'll be able to have your arm out of the sling more often now and will be able to use it for limited daily activities. The therapist will also measure your progress each session. When the shoulder has nearly reached its normal range of motion, you'll be ready for the next phase of physical therapy.

Muscle Strengthening

Your shoulder and arm muscles are also weak from disuse. This phase strengthens the muscles to help you move your shoulder and to protect it from future injury. You'll use resistance machines in the physical therapy clinic and do exercises yourself when at home.

You'll be able to have your arm out of the sling much of the time and can begin using it for everyday activities. You could still overwork your shoulder and injure it, so you'll need to remain patient and maintain your pace.

Each of these phases takes several weeks to make progress. Stretching and rebuilding your muscles while the rotator cuff heals takes time. If you are physically active in sports, your doctor may have you continue with additional strength training to give your shoulder added protection from injury.