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Recovery from Rotator Cuff Surgery

A functional and painless shoulder is essential to a healthy quality of life. Rotator cuff disease is a common cause of shoulder disability causing pain and dysfunction, and reduced quality of life. People with rotator cuff disease very often experience major changes in their ability to be independent.  Pain and decreased strength and range of motion are factors that may influence a patient’s decision to have to surgery. Surgical repair has been shown to relieve pain and improve function in more than 90% of patients. Nevertheless, sometimes significant limitations remain. Supervised physical therapy, bracing and TENS stimulation for pain management are all supported by the scientific literature to optimize outcome following rotator cuff repair.

Recovery is different for everyone and depends on several factors, such as age, health, severity of the injury, the type of procedure and your surgeon’s experience and expertise. It also depends on the size of the tear and whether the surgery is performed as minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery, mini-open or open surgery. All techniques provide equivalent clinical improvements with few adverse events.

Generally speaking, recovery times can range anywhere from 4-6 weeks for a less invasive procedure such as arthroscopic repair to 6-12 months or longer for more complex procedures involving tendon or muscle grafts. Dr. Petrigliano will provide detailed instructions for the post-operative recovery period. It is very important to follow all directions closely in order to ensure a smooth and successful recovery.

A good rehabilitation program provides a good outcome

A good outcome is dependent on a good rehabilitation program. It leads to successful tendon healing, positive functional recovery and well-being. Most rehabilitation programs focus on protecting the shoulder while increasing range of motion, muscle strength and endurance, all of which are necessary in order to return to daily life activities.

Soft tissue healing happens in phases. In general, recovery takes six to eight weeks for the tendon to heal to the bone but time to full recovery depends on the size of the tear. Smaller tears can heal in about four months. Larger tears take longer. Massive tears can require up to a year to heal.

Recovery happens in phases

Immediately following surgery you will likely be in a sling for between three to six weeks. Dr. Petrigliano will decide whether and how long you will wear a sling.  He will make that determination based on his experience and expertise. His primary concern is your long-term improvement, and this is best achieved with rotator cuff healing.

Early passive motion typically begins as soon as possible with delayed active motion that begins only at five-to-six-weeks after surgery. He may also recommend lifestyle modifications to reduce stress on the rotator cuff and promote healing, such as avoiding heavy lifting and strenuous activities. In most cases, you should be able to return to full activity within 6-12 months. Most athletes (70%) are able to return to their pre-injury levels of play after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair.

Dr. Frank Petrigliano is an internationally renowned orthopedic surgeon and is the Chief of the Epstein Family Center for Sports Medicine at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, CA. He is a sports medicine expert who specializes in arthroscopic rotator cuff surgery. His goal is to return his patients to the life they love and the sports that make life worth living with minimal interruption. Contact him at one of this three convenient locations to schedule a consultation and receive the correct diagnosis, all your treatment options, and expert personalized care.

At a Glance

Dr. Frank Petrigliano

  • Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at USC
  • Chief of the Epstein Family Center for Sports Medicine
  • Team physician for the LA Kings and USC Athletics
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