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Return to Sports after Shoulder Replacement

A return to sports after shoulder replacement surgery is highly individual and will depend on the type of sport, the individual’s health and fitness level, the specific type of shoulder replacement surgery, and their recovery progress. Here is a general timeline, but it’s important to stress that this can vary widely. Dr. Petrigliano and your physical therapist will decide on the best timeline for you based on your progress. Speak with Dr. Petrigliano to gain insight into the challenges of returning to sports you love after a shoulder replacement.

What to expect

Your arm will likely be in a sling, and you’ll have restrictions on movement to allow the joint to start healing. You will start with gentle range-of-motion exercises under the guidance of your physical therapist. Sports are not advised during this time.

You may begin passive and gentle active exercises, focusing on gaining range of motion. Non-impact lower body activities like stationary biking can often be started during this period.

You will continue with more active exercises, with a focus on gradually increasing your strength. Low-impact sports like swimming or golf might be resumed during this period under the guidance of your healthcare provider.

The focus will be on regaining strength, endurance, and flexibility. Depending on your progress, you might be cleared to resume moderate-intensity sports.

If your recovery has gone well, you may be cleared to return to most sports. However, high-impact sports or those that place a lot of stress on the shoulder, like football or weightlifting, may still be off-limits to protect the prosthetic joint.

Tailoring recovery to your sport

Rehabilitation and recovery after shoulder replacement surgery can be tailored according to the specific sport you aim to return to such as:

  • Swimming and Surfing: Once you’ve regained basic shoulder mobility, exercises will focus on strengthening the muscles used in swimming strokes. For freestyle and backstroke, for example, you’d need to work on rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers strengthening. However, strokes such as the butterfly or breaststroke that require a large range of motion may take longer to return to, and in some cases, might not be recommended due to the stress placed on the joint. For surfers, you will work on specific exercises to strengthen your pop up.
  • Golf: The focus here would be on exercises that improve shoulder rotation and flexibility. Golfers use a wide range of motion in their swing, so improving flexibility is essential. Strengthening the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizer muscles will also be a priority.
  • Tennis: Tennis players require a good range of motion and significant strength in their shoulders, particularly for serves and overhead shots. Specific exercises might include strengthening the rotator cuff and muscles around the shoulder girdle, as well as overall endurance training.
  • Cycling: In cycling, the stress on the shoulder is less than in sports like golf or tennis, but a certain amount of strength and stability is still required, especially for mountain biking or long-distance rides. Rehabilitation would focus on strengthening the muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint, improving posture, and maintaining general fitness.

From a personal perspective return to sports can involve emotional, and psychological factors. Frustration and impatience, and fear of reinjury can be met with mental resilience, patience, and a positive mindset.

Once you are able to return to your favorite sport, you can give yourself kudos for your accomplishment. Even if you’re not able to perform at the same level as before, you can still derive a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from your hard work during recovery and being able to participate in the sports you enjoy.

Remember, everyone’s journey is unique, and your experience may not exactly align with others’. The most important thing is to focus on your recovery, adhere to your rehabilitation program, and communicate openly with your healthcare provider about your goals and concerns.

Why choose Dr. Petrigliano?

Los Angeles shoulder surgeon, Dr. Frank Petrigliano is an internationally regarded expert on shoulder injuries and conditions. Whether you are young or old, suffering from shoulder pain or an injury can be disabling.  Contact Dr. Petrigliano at the Epstein Family Center for Sports Medicine at Keck Medicine at USC. He can help.

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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