Torn Rotator Cuff Recovery – Surgical Approach

Torn Rotator Cuff Recovery: Surgical Approach

There are cases where rotator cuff surgery is absolutely required – the acute traumatic tear for instance. But beware…torn rotator cuff recovery after surgery is not easy.  It is painful.  It is restrictive…and it is long.

During surgery, the torn tendon is reattached to the bone by sutures. These small strings hold the rotator cuff against the bone until the tendon has healed to the bone.  Before the repair has healed, if there is too much activity or a traumatic event, these strings can cut through the tendon or break.  If this happens, the tendon will no longer be fixed to the bone. Consequently, it won’t heal to the bone.

Torn Rotator Cuff Recovery:  Post Op Course

To prevent you from sustaining a traumatic injury or overdoing things, we restrict your motion and activities for some time.  I use a sling for at least 6 weeks.  Since the tendon doesn’t heal to the bone for 3 months, even after the sling is discontinued, I restrict strenuous activities for 4-5 months.  I also restrict “risky” activities for up to 6 months.

Most people don’t have satisfactory strength for 6-9 months after surgery to enable many of these activities anyway.  Full strength, range of motion and endurance can even take up to a year to return.  It’s a marathon…not a sprint.

Your surgical torn rotator cuff recovery usually begins quickly after surgery.  In order to reduce your post pain, medications, other modalities (i.e. ice) and physical therapy are started immediately.  You can expect the therapy to continue for 5-6 months. Initially the focus is on reducing swelling and pain and reestablishing, neck, elbow, wrist and hand motion.  Then the therapy progresses to regaining shoulder motion, followed strength and finally endurance.

Hang In There!

This process is not easy.  There will be pain. There may be frustration and the occasional setbacks.  It may be four months until you begin to “see the light”.  You will need to work closely with your physical therapist…and with your surgeon.  You will need to stay focused, dedicated and fight off discouragement…and perhaps even feelings of or frank depression.

But in the end, when you recover, it will be seen as worth it.  When you are gardening with your surgical arm – When you are using that shoulder to hammer a nail or lifting weights overhead like you could before your injury – and you realize you hadn’t thought about your shoulder for months. It will all be worth it.

Jeffrey H. Berg, M.D.

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