As much as we’d like to avoid it, there comes a time for many of us when shoulder surgery is necessary for a pain-free, fully functional life. The good news is that shoulder surgery has a high success rate—whether it’s open surgery, arthroscopy, or even shoulder replacement. The bad news is that recovery can be a long process, with post shoulder surgery physical therapy efforts lasting six months or more.
Can You Speed Up the Process of Recovery from Shoulder Surgery?
We ask a lot of our shoulders. Most joints in the human body are simple hinges that allow a bone to move forward and back. But our shoulders not only lets our arms go forward and back, but also up and down and any compass direction in between. Not only that, they rotate and twist. When there’s a problem that limits these movements, it’s understandable that we would want it fixed as soon as possible.
All this functionality, though, comes from a pretty elaborate structure involving multiple joints, bones, tendons, muscles, cartilage, membranes, and cushioning materials. With all that complexity, there’s a lot that can go wrong. And there’s a lot of care that must be taken when something does go wrong. It’s not something that can—or should—be rushed.
So What Is the Best Approach to Recovery?
No matter the condition that leads to a shoulder surgery—whether it’s dislocation, impingement, frozen shoulder, torn cartilage or tendons, or arthritis—the best thing you can do afterward is to follow the advice of your doctor and physical therapist. That means sticking to the plan and not trying to force an early recovery by overusing your shoulder before it’s ready.
Post shoulder surgery physical therapy is important. A good physical therapist will be able to optimize a recovery plan unique to your particular needs. That’s how you’ll get the quickest results. And that’s how you’ll avoid unnecessary setbacks and delays in recovery.
Post-Shoulder Surgery Physical Therapy Tips
You can break down the recovery period into blocks. Your progress will vary depending on the nature of your injury and the type of surgery. But in general it will look something like this:
- The First Six Weeks—Immediately after surgery your biggest concern will be pain management. Your doctor might recommend cold packs to reduce swelling and pain, although some studies suggest this could slow recovery. Anti-inflammatory pain medications such as aspirin can help, but follow the advice of your doctor here. Beware prescription opioids, which carry the risk of addiction with little benefit over over-the-counter options.
During this time, you’ll need to keep the shoulder as still as possible. Use a sling to support the arm and take the pressure off the surgery site. The best thing you can do for your shoulder at this point is to avoid injuring it all over again while it’s still in its fragile state.
Although you’ll need to avoid moving the arm yourself, your physical therapist be able to move it for you. These “passive movements” (performed without contracting the muscles in your arm) will help to prevent the formation of scar tissue, which might otherwise limit your range of motion later.
- Six to Twelve Weeks—In this phase of post shoulder surgery physical therapy you will begin to perform limited exercises on your own. You shouldn’t be lifting heavy objects, but range of motion exercises can help to keep you on track.
• Three to Six Months—During this stage you will begin to gradually regain some of your lost strength. You’ll start light resistance exercises, still taking care not to overdo it, as the healing from surgery will not yet be complete. Patience is key.