Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery Timeline

rotator cuff surgery recovery timeline

When patients decide to undergo rotator cuff surgery, it makes sense that they want to know approximately how long their recovery will last. The rotator cuff surgery recovery timeline varies from patient to patient, as each patient’s injury is unique. Luckily, the team at SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy has everything you need for a successful surgery and recovery.

By working with an orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist on our team, you can rest assured that we will oversee all stages of your recovery. To schedule an appointment with us, please call our office at 469-200-2832 today.

What Is Rotator Cuff Surgery?

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons in the shoulder that play a crucial role in stabilizing and moving the shoulder joint. These rotator cuff muscles and tendons work together to provide support and enable a wide range of motion in the shoulder.

The tendons of these muscles form a cuff around the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) and help keep it securely within the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff is essential for various shoulder movements and functions, such as lifting, rotating, and reaching.

Rotator cuff repair surgery is a surgical procedure performed to repair a damaged or torn rotator cuff in the shoulder. This surgery is typically recommended when conservative treatments like rest, physical therapy, and medication haven’t sufficiently addressed the injury or when the tear is severe.

When Should You Have Rotator Cuff Surgery?

We generally recommend surgery for a patient when they either have an acute injury or when their injury has not responded to conservative treatment. This decision is made after careful consideration and evaluation of the patient’s injury, symptoms, and the injury’s impact on their life.

Below, we outline the basic indications of the need for surgery for a torn rotator cuff.

  • Persistent pain: If the pain in your shoulder joint persists despite conservative treatments such as rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and steroid injections, surgery is an option.
  • Severe or large tears: In cases where the tear in the rotator cuff is substantial or involves more than one tendon, surgery might be recommended. This is especially true if the tear affects daily functioning or significantly impairs shoulder movement.
  • Loss of function or strength: If the injury has led to a noticeable loss of strength or range of motion in the shoulder that affects your ability to perform regular activities, surgery can restore function.
  • Tear progression: If diagnostic tests, such as MRI scans, indicate that the tear is worsening over time or becoming larger, surgery can prevent further damage.

Ultimately, the decision to undergo rotator cuff surgery is made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account your specific circumstances. Conservative treatments are often attempted first. Surgery is usually considered when these methods fail to provide adequate relief.

Common Rotator Cuff Injuries

rotator cuff surgery recovery

Rotator cuff injuries can vary in severity and may range from mild inflammation to a torn tendon. Common rotator cuff injuries include the following.

  • Rotator cuff tendonitis: This condition involves inflammation of the tendons in the rotator cuff, usually caused by repetitive overhead motions or aging.
  • Rotator cuff impingement: When the space between the acromion (a bony projection of the shoulder blade) and the rotator cuff tendons narrows, it can result in compression or pinching of the tendons during arm movements.
  • Rotator cuff tears: Tears in the rotator cuff tendons can be partial or complete. Partial tears involve damage to a portion of the tendon, while complete tears involve a complete separation of the tendon from the bone. Some patients can even have two tendon tears at once.
  • Calcific tendonitis: This occurs when calcium deposits build up within the rotator cuff tendons.

Is Rotator Cuff Repair an Outpatient Surgery?

Yes, rotator cuff repair surgery is often performed on an outpatient basis, meaning the patient can typically go home the same day as the surgery. The specific procedure and the patient’s individual circumstances will determine whether it can be done as an outpatient surgery.

Many rotator cuff repair surgeries, particularly those performed arthroscopically or using minimally invasive techniques, allow for shorter recovery times and can be completed in an outpatient setting. However, in some cases where the tear is extensive or more complex, an open surgical approach might be necessary, potentially requiring a short hospital stay.

What Is Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery Recovery Like?

Recovering from rotator cuff tear surgery is a gradual process that involves different stages, and the specifics can vary based on the type of surgery performed, the extent of the tear, and individual factors. Most patients experience some degree of shoulder pain during recovery, but this is mitigated with pain medications.

Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery Timeline

shoulder surgery recovery

The recovery process after rotator cuff tear surgery can feel long and sometimes frustrating, but it is important to take things slow. Attempting too much too fast will only worsen your injury, potentially undo the positive results of your surgery, and lead to a longer recovery period. In the following sections, we outline the basic recovery timeline for recovering from surgery for rotator cuff tears.

The Day of the Surgery

During rotator cuff surgery, the surgeon accesses the shoulder joint, identifies the torn or damaged tendons of the rotator cuff, and then repairs them. This can involve reattaching the tendon to the bone, removing damaged tissue, or using suture anchors to fix the tear. The specific technique used (arthroscopic, open, or mini-open) depends on the severity and type of injury. The goal is to restore stability, function, and strength to the shoulder.

After the procedure, the arm is placed in a sling. We will monitor your immediate recovery, but you will most likely go home a few hours after your procedure concludes.

The First Few Days After Surgery

In the first few days after your surgery, we will focus mainly on controlling your pain levels. We will do this with pain medication, which will also reduce swelling. It is very important to follow your surgeon’s instructions for pain management. One general rule to follow is that you should take pain medicine at the first sign of pain rather than waiting for the pain to become severe.

Sleeping After Rotator Cuff Surgery

Many patients have questions about how they can stay comfortable while sleeping after their surgery. Even if you don’t sleep on your side, you may experience pain and discomfort that could keep you up at night. We generally recommend that patients sleep in a partially upright position by placing pillows under their head and upper back or by sleeping in a recliner. Ensure that your elbow remains pointed downward while you sleep, and stick to your surgeon’s recommendations.

Phases of Recovery After Rotator Cuff Surgery

shoulder surgery recovery time

Recovering from rotator cuff surgery involves a phased approach to physical therapy. It is essential to attend all follow-up appointments with your doctor and heed all of their instructions to ensure a smooth recovery. We outline each of the recovery phases below.

Passive Motions

The early phases of physical therapy involve what we call passive motion. Passive motion means that your physical therapist will move your arm for you rather than you moving it yourself. This will help you avoid placing any strain on the repair area. This first phase can last up to six weeks.

Active Motions

Next, you will move on to the active motion phase. Active motion involves you moving your arm on your own. Your Dallas physical therapist will still work with you to improve your strength, flexibility, and range of motion during this phase. They will likely teach you how to perform home exercises. This phase is often long, potentially lasting up to twelve weeks.

Building Strength

The strength building phase is widely regarded as the most important phase. Because of your inability to use your arm normally after the injury, it has likely lost a noticeable amount of strength. Building strength is important for both returning to your normal activities and preventing future injuries. Your physical therapist will help you use light weights and resistance bands to build strength during this phase.

Full Recovery

To achieve full recovery and shoulder function after your surgery, you can expect a recovery period of around six to nine months. Recovery times can be longer or shorter depending on the size, severity, and location of the rotator cuff tear. We develop personalized treatment plans to meet each patient’s individual needs, as there is no single treatment plan that will work for every patient.

FAQs About Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery

rotator cuff tear recovery time

How Long Before You Can Drive After Rotator Cuff Surgery?

The typical timeframe for most patients before driving after rotator cuff surgery is approximately 4-6 weeks, but it varies based on individual recovery, the affected arm, and the specific recommendations of your surgeon. Always follow your doctor’s advice regarding when it’s safe to resume driving after surgery.

How Soon Can I Lift My Arm After Rotator Cuff Surgery?

After rotator cuff surgery, you may gradually begin passive motion exercises within a few days. However, lifting your arm actively may take several weeks, typically around 6 weeks, and it depends on your surgeon’s guidance and the specific procedure performed. This does not apply to heavy lifting, which generally requires a longer waiting period. Follow your surgeon’s instructions regarding when it’s safe to start lifting your arm after surgery.

How Painful Is Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery?

Rotator cuff surgery recovery can involve varying levels of pain, which typically subsides over time. The initial phase after surgery may involve moderate to significant discomfort, managed with prescribed pain medication. Pain gradually decreases as the shoulder heals, and diligent adherence to the rehabilitation plan can help manage discomfort during recovery. Always adhere to your sports medicine doctor’s recommendations for managing your pain.

How Long Does It Take to Fully Recover from Rotator Cuff Surgery?

The complete recovery from rotator cuff surgery can take several months to a year. However, the rotator cuff surgery recovery timeline varies based on the severity of the tear, the type of surgery, adherence to rehabilitation, and individual healing. You may be able to return to your regular activities after six to eight weeks, depending on your activity level prior to the surgery. Always consult with your doctor before increasing your activity level.

Contact SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy Today

At SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy, our team of expert orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists provide compassionate, well-rounded care to patients with a wide variety of orthopedic conditions. For sprains, strains, tendonitis, rotator cuff tears, and more, we’ve got you covered. Schedule an appointment with us today by calling 469-200-2832.