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What to Expect After Rotator Cuff Surgery

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Rotator cuff injuries can cause chronic shoulder pain, arm weakness, and difficulty sleeping. While mild injuries can respond well to conservative treatments such as injections and physical therapy, you may benefit from surgery if your injury is severe or if you’re not responding to your initial treatments. 

Rotator cuff surgery can help restore the functionality of your joint, improve the range of motion, and alleviate pain.

As with any surgery, though, it’s important to weigh all of the pros and cons before proceeding, and one of the aspects you need to explore is your recovery. Read on as our team of board-certified orthopedic surgeons at Orthopedic Specialists of Oakland County explains what you can expect after your rotator cuff surgery so you can make an informed decision.

What to expect immediately after surgery

Following rotator cuff surgery, you will spend time in the recovery area as the effects of anesthesia wear off. It’s normal to feel groggy or even nauseous as anesthesia wears off. These are all normal, but short-lived, side effects of anesthesia. 

Your surgical team will secure your shoulder in a sling for support and minimal movement. They’ll also provide pain management medications to address any immediate discomfort. You will receive specific instructions for your at-home recovery. Follow all instructions as closely as possible. 

What to expect during your first few days post-op

After your initial recovery in the recovery area, you can return home to continue healing. You can expect the following:

Pain management

In the first few days after rotator cuff surgery, you will likely experience some pain and discomfort. Take pain management medications as prescribed by your Orthopedic Specialists of Oakland County surgeon. 

Wear a sling

Your arm may be immobilized with a sling to promote healing and prevent unnecessary strain on the repaired tissues. Continue to wear your sling as instructed.

Physical therapy

You’ll likely start physical therapy relatively soon after the procedure. Physical therapy will focus on gentle exercises to gradually improve range of motion and strength in the shoulder. 

Make necessary adjustments and wear comfortable clothes

While you heal, you may need to outsource tasks, such as snow removal. If you’re having surgery on your dominant side, you may need to practice daily tasks with your non-dominant hand. 

You may find that wearing sweatpants and loose T-shirts is the easiest, although you could also wear open-shoulder clothing. Specific shoulder-surgery shirts feature snaps for ease of dressing without having to pull a shirt over your head.

What to expect in the weeks after your surgery

After your initial recovery, you can expect follow-up appointments, which may include suture removal. During your follow-up appointments, our team also provides guidance on:

How and when to return to normal activities

While rest is crucial during the early stages of recovery, it’s important to gradually resume your daily activities. This may include light tasks and movements that don't strain your healing shoulder. 

Continued exercises 

Even after you've regained much of your shoulder function, long-term rehabilitation exercises may be recommended to maintain strength and prevent future injuries. Consistency with these exercises is crucial for sustaining the benefits of your surgery. If you need help remembering to do your exercises, set a daily reminder to complete your stretches and exercises. 


Although all surgeries require downtime and some pain management, you can also expect long-term pain relief. The goal of surgery is to repair your shoulder, get back to working order, and alleviate the pain associated from a damaged rotator cuff. As you progress through your healing period, keep this in mind!

Give yourself time and space to heal

Recovery from rotator cuff surgery is a gradual process that requires patience.  Remember to give yourself the space to heal and nourish your body as it heals. Each person is unique, and so is your healing timeline. Your timeline for returning to normal activities varies on factors such as the extent of your surgery, the success of rehabilitation, your dedication to physical therapy, your age, the extent of your injury, the type of surgery (open or laparoscopic), and your overall health. In general, you can expect a full recovery to take anywhere from 6 months to up to 14 months.

In the interim, eat nutrient-dense foods, stay hydrated, stay consistent with your physical therapy, and don’t push yourself.

If you’re struggling with shoulder pain and would like to explore the benefits of surgery, give us a call at 248-335-2977. You can also use our online scheduler to book an appointment at our Bloomfield Hills or Clarkston, Michigan office.