Rotator Cuff Repair Surgery

Your Diagnosis

Rotator cuff repair surgery is done to repair the torn tendons of the shoulder joint. See Rotator cuff tear section

What happens during Surgery?

Surgery takes between 45 minutes to 1 hour. It is done with general anesthesia, meaning the person is asleep. Usually the person will have a nerve block placed in their neck which makes their shoulder and arm numb for 6 to 48 hours. During surgery an arthroscope is placed into the joint. Sometimes the tendon is repaired only through the arthroscope and several other small incisions.  Other times, a 1 inch incision is needed to best repair the tendon.

Immediately after Surgery

The person will wake from surgery in the recovery room where they will spend 1 to 3 hours.  

After spending 1 to 3 hours in the recovery room, the person will either be kept overnight in the hospital or allowed to go home. If the person goes home they must have a ride since they cannot drive or take public transportation. 

If the person stays in the hospital, after recovery room they will be moved up to their room. In their room there is usually a bed with a special continuous range-of-motion machine (CPM). The nurse will hook the person up to the machine and teach the person how to use the machine. This machine should be used as often as possible.

A person may have questions following surgery. Many of these frequently asked questions about surgery can be answered here. 

What to expect after Surgery: Week 0 through Week 6 (Phase One)

  • PainIt is normal for a person to experience moderate to severe pain for the first few days after surgery.  A person will be given pain pills to take for the first 5 days after surgery.  After that, only Tylenol is recommended (only if the person’s primary doctor says it is safe for them). Pain from the surgery should decrease by roughly half with each passing day.  If done correctly and often, the stretching usually helps to decrease the pain.  If a person wakes up with pain in the middle of the night, they should do their stretching exercises, as stretching usually makes the pain better.
  • Therapy: If the person goes home they will have an appointment with the therapist the next day. If the person stays in the hospital then a therapist will visit the person multiple times during their stay to teach the person the 40/140 Therapy Program. This therapy program involves stretching the shoulder that had the surgery with the help of the other arm. The person will be taught 2 stretches. Each stretch should be done 5 times in a row.  The stretching sessions be done 5 times a day. This means 50 stretches a day
  • If a person’s shoulder is too sore to stretch, it’s very important they communicate this to their provider and therapist. Every day that passes in which a person does not achieve their range-of-motion goals, makes it extra difficult to get back on track.

  • Precautions: For the first 6 weeks after surgery, a person may do Passive Range-of-Motion only.  It is extremely important that the person not actively uses their arm (Active Range-of-Motion), and keep it completely relaxed for the first 6 weeks after surgery.  This gives the repaired tendons needed time to heal.  If a person actively uses their shoulder before full healing, the surgical repair could pull apart and the person may need another surgery.

    Although a person will not be permitted to move their arm/shoulder away from their body, they will still be able to move their elbows and wrists- this means they can still do light things like type, write, cut their food, feed themselves, and wash their face, etc.

    The only form of exercise a person should do at this point, is: 1) walk uphill on a paved, even road with their arm in a sling  OR 2) ride a stationary bike with their arm in a sling and not holding on to the handle bar.

  • WorkNothing should get in the way of the shoulder stretches after surgery. If a person wants to go back to work right away then they must find the time while at work to do the stretches. They also must follow the above mentioned precautions. If the person can afford not to go back to work right away then they will receive a doctor’s note for their employer.

What to expect after Surgery: Week 6 through Week 12 (Phase Two)

  • PainIt is expected that there will be pain with movement of the shoulder.  Pain should be much less than the first few weeks after surgery. Most people are comfortable if they are resting.
  • Therapy:  Starting on week 6, the previous stretches will be stopped. The person will begin 4 Quadrant Stretching. They will also begin the Early Strengthening Program.
  • PrecautionsStarting on week 6 all precautions are lifted. The person may begin to use their arm. The level of activity will be guided by their pain. If the pain is tolerable they can continue their activity. If the pain is too much they should back off the activity.
    The shoulder and arm will be weak at this point since the person has not used the arm for the last 6 weeks. As such the person should use common sense when returning to activities. For example, if the person wants to play golf then start out at the driving range first to see how the shoulder responds -don’t jump into 18 holes with their friends. Or, if the person wants to swim then start out in the shallow end to see how the arm will respond -not the deep end.
  • Work: Work should not interfere with the therapy programs. If a person wants to return to work during this period they must find time to stretch and strengthen.
    Most people who have jobs that require physical labor are not ready to return to work at the 6 week mark.  Some may be ready to go back around week 8-10. It’s unlikely that a person who has a highly physical job will go back to full duty at this time. 

What to expect after Surgery: Week 12 through 1 year and beyond (Phase Three)

  • Pain: The pain will continue to decrease over the year. It is normal to still have pain once in a while. 
  • TherapyAfter week 12 most people will begin to decrease the number of stretches and strengthening exercises they do. They also begin to return to normal activities. Their function will gradually improve over the year.
  • Precautions: Usually by the 12 week mark, a person is doing about 80% of the kind of activity and exercise they were doing prior to surgery. It is important to note, that most people will continue to improve for at least 1 to 1 1/2 years after surgery.
  • Work: Most people have returned to work.

Normal rotator cuff

Torn rotator cuff

Repaired rotator cuff