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How Do I Prepare for Shoulder Surgery?

Updated: May 10, 2022

Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Braley, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS

As much as I wish Physical Therapy was the solution for all my patients, sometimes people require surgery. Surgery is a big deal! Preparing and understanding what to expect can help ease anxieties and improve your rehabilitation experience. The most common shoulder surgery I see is a rotator cuff repair. Rehabilitation varies after different types of surgery and after a rotator cuff repair rehabilitation will vary slightly based on the size of the repair. There are a lot of other surgeries; total shoulder replacements, reverse total shoulder replacements, labral (cartilage that lines and supports ball-and-socket joints) repairs and repairs of fractures (breaks). Each surgery has different precautions and many have restriction while you heal.

Try “Pre hab”- The better range of motion and strength you have going into surgery the easier it will be to get your motion and strength back after surgery. Learning a few simple stretches and easy strengthening exercises can help prepare. Your physical therapist can identify areas of tightness to stretch and teach you gentle strengthening exercises. Here at the Green Room Physical Therapy we can help with that. I have patients hold a cane/stick/broom and stretch over head and rotate their shoulder. You may not be able to stretch as far as I do in the photos. Move through the motion to the point you feel a stretch, not to the point of aggravating the pain. Tissue stretches best with long holds so try to hold at least 10 seconds 5-10 times if it’s challenging. Or up to a minute for two sets.

Remember good posture! It seems silly, but practicing good posture will keep the muscles in their ideal position for recovering. When you slouch and let your shoulders stay rounded the muscles in the front are shortened and get tight. The muscles in the back are over lengthened and when you try to use them they are not in their ideal position. Posture is important!

Make life easier- You will likely be more comfortable in either button up or oversized shirts. You want to wear something that does not require you to lift your arm up to put on. Some women schedule a hair “wash” at their favorite salon, so they don’t have to have a support person wash, dry and style their hair. You may want to practice putting on and taking off shirts without using your surgical arm. I recommend dressing by first putting your surgical arm through the shirt, then your head, last your uninvolved arm. Undressing is the opposite order. First remove your uninvolved arm, then head, last slip the shirt off your surgical arm. Baggy t-shirts and loose button up shirts are much easier than tight clothing.

Manage your expectations- Depending on what surgery you are having you could be in a sling for months, just a few days or not at all. The length of time in the sling and your lifting restrictions depend on the type of surgery. Rehabilitation could take a few weeks or 6-12 months. The surgeon will typically dictate aspects of your rehabilitation based on the size and location of what they fixed. I hate feeling like the “bad guy” when the patient has not discussed restrictions and expectations with their surgeon, so make sure to clarify anything with them about what you should or shouldn't be doing, and for how long. When you can transition out of your sling, you will not immediately be able to move your arm like you could before. BUT, We can help get you there.

Let us help you!

You can schedule a free consultation or full evaluation, whether you're interested in pre-hab or post-op rehab using this link:

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