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Having Shoulder Surgery? 3 Tips to Speed Up Your Recovery!
Sept. 27, 2019

Are you or a loved one planning on having shoulder surgery soon? If so, you’ll want to do everything you can PRIOR to surgery to improve your chances of a speedy recovery!

In today’s post, we’re going to talk about a few common shoulder surgeries. After explaining these surgeries, I’ll give you some helpful tips to prepare for shoulder surgery, as well as some good strategies following surgery. Let’s start with a few of the most common shoulder surgeries we help our clients with in the clinic:

Common Shoulder Surgeries

– Rotator Cuff Repairs: the rotator cuff muscles (“RC” muscles) are frequently injured or torn in people with ongoing shoulder pain. If there’s enough damage, the muscles may need to be repaired. This is usually done arthroscopically, and the muscles are sewn back together and/or re-anchored in place.

– “Subacromial Debridement” (SAD): people with RC muscle tears will often have bone spurs that have been digging into the tendon and fraying it. If this is the case, an “SAD” will also be performed, where the surgeon removes any bone spurs just above the main RC tendon. Another common procedure is to remove a portion of the clavicle (the collar bone). This is called a “DCR”, which stands for distal clavicle resection. SAD/DCR surgery can be performed with or without a rotator cuff repair.

– Total Shoulder Replacements: similar to total knee replacement surgery, sometimes the shoulder can become completely arthritic, to the point where the ball-and-socket joint is now bone-on-bone. There are 2 options for people who have this surgery: the standard version, where the joint surfaces are replaced, or a “reverse” version where the position of the ball and socket are actually switched (this is for people who no longer have function of their rotator cuff muscles).

How to Prepare for Shoulder Surgery

Tip #1: Improve Your Flexibility. With chronic shoulder irritation, people often experience significant tightness in the shoulder. The extreme version of this is what we call “frozen shoulder”. Leading up to surgery, work on your flexibility as much as you can, without aggravating your shoulder too much. The more flexibility you can gain before surgery, the easier it will be to regain full motion after.

Tip #2: Strengthen the RC Muscles. Depending on the state of your RC muscles, you’ll want to strengthen them as much as you can. Keep in mind that there are 4 RC muscles, so even if one is completely torn, you can still work on strengthening the other 3 (depending on your pain level).

Tip #3: Keep Inflammation Low. As you’re attempting to improve your strength and flexibility leading up to surgery, make sure you don’t push too hard and make your shoulder feel worse. This won’t help you in the long run. Also, icing your shoulder 2-3 times/day can be very helpful.

Tips for a Full Recovery After Shoulder Surgery

Tip #1: Know Your Precautions. Depending on your surgery, as well as the extent of the damage, you’ll have some pretty specific post-surgery instructions. Make sure you know them well and don’t try to advance your rehab too quickly. For example, most people with RC repairs will be required to wear a sling for 4-6 weeks following surgery and should avoid any active use of the arm, as this can jeopardize the repair and potentially cause it to fail. So make sure you know your limitations!

Tip #2: Start ROM Early. “ROM” stands for range of motion and is similar to flexibility. As long as you follow your precautions, you’ll want to start working on your shoulder ROM as soon as you can. This will help you avoid developing frozen shoulder.

Tip #3: Start PT on Time! Again, depending on your surgery, you should have very specific instructions for when you can start your PT. Some people will start within days of their surgery, while others may wait a period of weeks. Either way, figure out when you can start, and plan to call your PT clinic 2-3 weeks in advance. That way, you’ll be able to start right away, and you won’t have to wait to get going.

That’s a lot of advice about shoulder surgery, but I hope it helps you understand a few of the key concepts! That last tip might seem a bit self-serving, but it really is important to have a skilled therapist guide you through the rehab process. The DIY approach isn’t a good strategy following surgery, especially for the more involved repairs. As always, if you have any specific questions, I’m happy to answer them by email at

Below is a video of today’s post, with some expanded content. Good luck with surgery! – Luke Gordon

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