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10 Tips for Safely Recovering After Shoulder Surgery

November 19th, 2020

10 Tips for Safely Recovering After Shoulder Surgery


More than 50,000 Americans have shoulder surgery every year. It’s well known that your routine following surgery can make a huge difference to the recovery process.

So what can you do to ensure a safe yet full recovery? And what is the length of shoulder surgery recovery time?

Keep reading for our top tips on recovering after shoulder surgery.

1. Prepare Your Shower

This first tip is something you can prepare ahead of your surgery. It’s important to get your shower equipped with the necessary items so that once you’re doing your shoulder rehabilitation, you can bathe with as little pain and discomfort as possible.

Having a detachable showerhead makes a great difference to the ease of showering post-surgery. It’s important not to get the incision site wet until your doctor says this safe to do. A waterproof bandage or plastic bag secured with tape is another way to do this.

2. At Home Assistance

Before undergoing shoulder surgery, it is difficult to know for how long you will be unable to complete daily tasks independently. It is best to get a support system in place prior to having surgery and to plan for a worst-case scenario.

This starts with asking a friend or family member to drive you home from the hospital following your surgery.

Daily tasks such as preparing meals and getting dressed might be impossible to do alone during the first few days. If you live alone, ask a friend or family member to check in on you, and make sure you have everything you need.

3. Sleep in the Right Position

An important part of the recovery process is to make sure you’re sleeping in the right position. Sleeping in the wrong position could make the pain worse and cause unnecessary strain on your shoulder.

It is recommended to keep your arm in a sling, even during sleep, to prevent movement and keep your shoulder protected.

You should begin by sleeping on the side where you did not have surgery, and as the pain decreases, move to lie flat on your back.

4. Be Aware of Complications

You should be aware of the possible complications following shoulder surgery so that you can get additional medical attention if needed. If the incision site seems infected with a yellow discharge, you should contact your doctor.

Other symptoms to be aware of are a high fever and sudden pain in your shoulder which does not respond to pain medication.

It is vital not to overstrain yourself and try to resume daily activities without giving your shoulder the chance to heal fully.

5. Practice Physiotherapy Exercises

Occupational therapy, as well as physiotherapy exercises from home, are a great way to resume daily activities and exercising following shoulder surgery. Slowly but surely, a range of exercises recommended by our physical therapists can help you get back on your feet.

At Nick Roselli Occupational Therapy, we offer a wide variety of treatments to help with your shoulder rehabilitation. These include therapeutic massage, neuromuscular techniques, and pressure point therapy.

6. Take Care of Your Dressing

The next important tip you should be aware of is how to take good care of your dressing. Closely follow your doctor’s instructions concerning when your dressing should be changed and how it should be cared for. 

The doctor will generally remove your stitches a week after the surgery. After this point, the incision site should not be soaked in hot water for extended periods, such as in the bath. The wound should be dried thoroughly but carefully following showers.

7. Use Ice and Heat Compressions

Many people find the use of compressions helpful during shoulder surgery recovery. In the initial period of your rehabilitation, ice packs should be used as they can reduce pain and swelling around the shoulder.

You can buy an ice pack specifically for treating the body, otherwise a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a piece of material will work just as well.

A week after your surgery, heat packs can also be placed on or near the shoulder. Alternating the ice and heat compressions is a great way to reduce pain, but take care not to place these directly against your skin.

8. Consider Your Clothing

Wearing the right clothing following your surgery can make a great difference to your comfort and to the ease of getting yourself dressed. Opt for looser items of clothing that can be buttoned up rather than garments that need to be pulled over your head.

Women should wear bras that fasten at the front if possible. If not, a bra can be fastened at the front then twisted round and pulled up.

Slip-on shoes or flip-flops will be a better option than shoes with laces unless you live with someone who can assist you with this task.

9. Take Pain Medication as Required

Pain medication should always be taken as your doctor has prescribed. Anti-inflammatory medication, local anesthetics, and opioids can all be prescribed following shoulder surgery.

Opioids are extremely addictive so take care not to exceed your doctor’s recommendations. Pain medication should not be taken longer than necessary. Equally, if severe pain continues, this should not be ignored.

10. Be Patient

The final thing to remember when recovering from shoulder surgery is to be patient. Trying to resume your old habits too quickly can prolong the rehabilitation process by straining your shoulder when it cannot cope.

Recovery times vary from patient to patient and also depending on the type of operation you have undergone. Simpler procedures can see a full recovery within three weeks, while more complicated operations can take up to two months to recover from.

Following these tips and practicing gentle physiotherapy exercises daily is the best way to ensure a full recovery from shoulder surgery.

That’s Recovering After Shoulder Surgery Made Simple

Incorporating these easy tips into your post-surgery rehabilitation is vital for ensuring a smooth recovery process. At Nick Roselli Occupational Therapy, we can develop a recovery program specifically catered to your needs.

If you have any questions about recovering after shoulder surgery, contact us to book your occupational therapy appointment.

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