The body is filled with a litany of joints, each of them serving its valuable function. The shoulder could easily be deemed as one of the most used joints in the body since it connects the arm to the rest of your body. Over time, injury and damage to this large upper-body joint can lead to a need for surgical repair.
More than 50,000 shoulder replacements are performed annually, and 460,000 rotator cuff surgeries take place every year. Whether it is rotator cuff surgery or full or partial shoulder replacement, shoulder surgery recovery time is always a major topic of concern for patients.
The 5 Facets of Shoulder Surgery Recovery Time
The full recovery time after shoulder surgery can range, but you can generally expect that you will be in a recovery period for about three to six months depending on the surgery performed. The recovery period can be broken down into distinct periods of time and each can last for an anticipated duration.
Immediately After Surgery
The post-operative stage after shoulder surgery is the briefest but can be the most critical. You will likely stay in the hospital between two and five days following shoulder replacement surgery so you get direct pain management and supervision so your surgical site and vitals are properly monitored. However, rotator cuff surgery may involve only a brief period spent in recovery, and then you will get to go home the same day. Generally, your main focus during this initial phase will be to remain comfortable, keep swelling down using cold compresses, and to take it easy.
The Immobilization Period
The shoulder will likely be primarily immobilized for about six weeks after replacement surgery, and 7 to 10 days after rotator cuff repair. Therefore, you will likely be wearing a sling to support your arm and prevent undue stress on the shoulder as it heals. During this time, your doctor may have you removing the sling briefly to do gentle stretches and movements to help keep the ligaments and muscles loose during recovery, but this can also depend on the type of surgery performed.
Passive and Active Physical Rehabilitation
After your incision has mostly healed and stitches have either dissolved or been removed, you will begin passive physical rehabilitation. Passive physical rehabilitation involves gentle stretching and movements meant to keep the shoulder freely moving. This portion of shoulder surgery recovery is most often done with the help of a physical therapist who will help support the weight of your arm during movements to prevent adding stress to the shoulder.
Active physical rehab involves more demanding movements and exercises to reestablish strength in the muscles around the shoulder and to get accustomed to the new joint as part of your body. These exercises usually do not begin until around the three-month point following surgery. Anything sooner, for most patients, can cause harm to the healing tissue around the shoulder joint.
The Monitoring Period
Once you have healed beyond around the three to six-month mark after surgery, you will be getting back to your usual activities. However, it is still important to monitor your shoulder for any unusual changes, such as pain, swelling, or changes in the range of motion. Your doctor will likely have you come in for a follow-up sometime around the three-month point after surgery, but if you spot problems after your final follow-up appointment, reach out to your doctor to have the shoulder checked out.
Factors That Can Affect Shoulder Surgery Recovery Time
While general guidelines can be indicative of how long shoulder surgery recovery time will be, each person can have their own unique experience. Numerous factors can affect the time of recovery and the time spent in each stage of recovery. A few examples of factors that can affect recovery time after shoulder surgery include:
- The age of the patient
- The specific type of surgery performed
- How well the individual follows physical therapy schedules
It is also worth noting that something like arthroscopic (keyhole) surgery, which involves making only small incisions and performing work with narrow tools, may have a shorter recovery time frame. It is important to closely adhere to your overseeing surgeon’s instructions after shoulder surgery. The professional will be your primary guide on when certain parts of recovery should begin.
Find Out More About Shoulder Surgery from an Orthopedic Surgeon
Once recovery is complete after shoulder surgery, you can see a drastic improvement in your overall quality of life. While shoulder surgery can sound like an intimidating thing, recovery does go smoothly for most patients. Our Tampa orthopedic surgeons are highly trained in shoulder surgery and pain treatment. Reach out to us at Full Circle Orthopedics to learn more about shoulder surgery.