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What to Expect After a Rotator Cuff Surgery

October 20th, 2020

What to Expect After a Rotator Cuff Surgery


What to Expect After a Rotator Cuff Surgery

If you are going in for rotator cuff surgery, it is essential to understand what to expect. Click here to learn more about recovery and rehabilitation.

There are more than 460,000 rotator cuff surgeries performed every year in the United States.

This common surgery is used to repair the damage done to the group of muscles and tendons that create this cuff over the shoulder. It’s very important to fix these injuries because the rotator cuff is what holds the arm in the joint and helps it move. 

While a rotator cuff surgery is often necessary after a tear in the tendons, the work done after the surgery is just as important. 

Read on to learn more about what to expect after a rotator cuff surgery. 

Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery Time 

During a rotator cuff surgery, the surgeon will make an incision in the shoulder to do the repair. There are a few different techniques depending on the exact situation. 

Normally this type of surgery takes around two hours, sometimes a little more. 

When you have rotator cuff surgery it is often done under general anesthesia. Though sometimes just regional anesthesia is used. Either way, you will likely only be required to spend a few hours in the recovery room at the hospital. 

The real recovery time comes after you go home from the hospital and start your rehabilitation. The full recovery time obviously varies a little from person to person. But generally, the full range of motion is back after six months. 

Recover from rotator cuff surgery can be broken down into three main periods. 

The first period is the first six weeks. During this time the patient should try to use the shoulder as little as possible. The more time it can be still the more healing that will be done. 

Often the patient’s doctor will advise them to begin to see a physical therapist during this time to get started on treatments. 

The next period is between six and twelve weeks. This is when the patient will be allowed to start using the shoulder a little bit and introducing old movements back into a regular routine. 

This time period is often still when the patient is regularly attending physical therapy sessions to strengthen the muscles and tendons. 

The last period is three to six months which is just generally healing and strengthening. Motions can be added back into life slowly to ensure no re-injury. It’s really important to use this time to carefully build the muscle back to avoid future problems. 

What to Do to Promote Healing 

While every patient will have a different recovery time, there are some things that you can do to recover as quickly as possible. 

It’s important to take all of the advice given to you by the medical professionals you’re working with seriously. They will know the best way for your muscles to get back to their original state. 

Often a rotator cuff injury can happen again, even after surgery. So you want to do your best to really strengthen the muscle to avoid having to go through it again. 


It’s likely that the patient has seen a physical or occupational therapist for the shoulder injury before the rotator cuff surgery was performed. Most people and doctors like to try to heal the injury through other methods before surgery. 

If this is the case then you’ve likely been set up on a treatment plan for after the surgery. 

A skilled therapist will have the training and knowledge to be able to work with you to regain and increase the strength in your shoulder. This will likely be done through weekly (or sometimes multiple times a week) visits. 

During these visits your therapist will help you go through a series of exercises designed to target the specific muscle groups. They will be able to help you do this strength training without injury. 

Periodically they will test your range of motion to chart progress and reevaluate as necessary. 


One of the most critical parts of a successful rotator cuff surgery recovery is to keep the should immobile for the first six weeks. 

The muscles and tendons that have had to be repaired need that time to heal and really reform those bonds. Movement can displace the work that the surgeon did and make it impossible to heal. 

But if you really think about it, not moving your shoulder or arm is actually pretty impossible. 

Sure it might be easy for you to not go to the gym and do some heavy lifting. Not so easy to resist everyday, regular tasks that involve moving your arm or shoulder. We just use it for everything. 

This is why most surgeons, doctors, physical or occupational therapists will advise their patients to get a brace to wear for that time period. 

These braces are designed to keep your shoulder and arm in the optimal position for healing. 

When you wear the brace it immobilizes the area and makes you more conscious of the movements you are doing. This practice is extremely important so you don’t accidentally mess up the area again. 


There really is no getting around the fact that after a rotator cuff surgery, you really need to rest.

Six weeks seems like a very long time to not be able to move your arm. But pushing to speed things up too quickly can cause permanent damage to your shoulder, which you obviously don’t want. 

It’s important to find the balance of pushing yourself to recovery and strength. But also listening to your body and allowing it to heal properly. 

Get Past the Injury

Rotator cuff surgery isn’t the most exciting or enjoyable process to go through. But having an injured shoulder forever is definitely worse. 

In order to get the best results after your surgery, it’s important to follow the guidelines and timeline given to you by your healthcare providers. They will be able to guide you to full strength and recovery. 

If you want to learn more about this injury and recovery, contact us today! 

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