What to Expect Following a Rotator Cuff Repair


If you have been told you need to have a rotator cuff repair surgery, there is a good chance you may be confused of what that means. What is a rotator cuff anyway? Why do I need it? How long does rehab take? Will I be able to normally use my shoulder again? The following will help you to understand more about the rotator cuff, and what to expect after having it surgically repaired.

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that connect the upper arm (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula). The muscles are called the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. Each of these muscles are partially responsible for a specific movement of the shoulder which could be reaching behind your back, closing a car door,  putting on your seatbelt, etc. When one or more than one of these muscles/tendon is torn, it makes doing activities like these difficult and painful.

Depending on the instructions from your surgeon, you may be in a sling for six weeks following your surgery. The purpose of the sling is to protect your rotator cuff repair from re injury while it heals. It is very important that you follow the guidelines your surgeon gave you on when you can take your sling off. Depending on the instructions the surgeon gives to your physical therapist, your therapist may be able to take you out of your sling while you are in therapy in order to perform some gentle range of motion. Again, that decision is entirely in the hands of the doctor that performed your surgery.

Your physical therapist will follow a specific protocol in order to progress you through your rehabilitation safely. There may be certain motions or restrictions your surgeon does not want you to perform until specific benchmarks have been met. When you get strong enough and the appropriate amount of time has past, your therapist can help you simulate higher level activities that you want to do in your daily life.  It is important to stick to only the exercises and instructions from your doctor and therapist; otherwise you are at risk for re injury.

A typical rotator cuff surgery will usually require a moderate amount of physical therapy in order to get your shoulder fully functioning again. You will begin with very simple range of motion exercises and progress to more advance strengthening and stability exercise as your healing allows. The vast majority of people are able to have full use of their shoulder following a rotator cuff replacement, as long as you follow instructions and be patient. Your physical therapist has the right knowledge and skill in order to get you back to normal daily life as quickly and safely as possible.

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