Do’s and Don’ts After Rotator Cuff Surgery

Rotator cuff surgery is usually a short procedure and you may be discharged from the hospital on the same day. You may be given a sling to help protect the injured arm. Pain medications will also be prescribed to help you manage the pain at home.

The following are do’s and don’ts to keep in mind after a rotator cuff surgery:


  • Keep the surgical wound clean and dry. The stitches will be removed during your follow-up visit.
  • Use the sling as prescribed by your doctor. You may take it off carefully during bathing or physical therapy sessions.
  • Take your medications as prescribed. Consult your doctor first if you think that the pain medication is not enough.
  • Cover the surgical wound with something that will prevent it from getting wet when you take a shower. You may opt for a sponge bath instead until your stitches are removed.
  • Change your wound dressing if it becomes wet; otherwise, refrain from touching it and always keep it dry. You may change the dressing 5 days after the surgery or as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Put ice on the injured arm to reduce swelling and pain. Make sure to place a layer of towel between your skin and the ice. Do this for 20 mins every 1 to 2 hours.
  • Move your elbow, wrist, and hand to keep the blood flowing and to avoid them from becoming stiff.
  • Follow the exercise regimen recommended to you by your physical therapist.
  • Be mindful of your sleeping position. Avoid sleeping on the side of the operated arm. You may find it easier to sleep reclined on a bed or a chair early on during your recovery.
  • If you experience any of the following complications, inform your doctor immediately:
    • Fever.
    • Bleeding in the surgical wound.
    • Excessive swelling or swelling that gets worse after 2 to 3 days.
    • Pain that does not get better with medications.
    • Numbness or tingling that spreads on the neck and the arm for more than a week. If you were given a nerve block during surgery, it is normal to feel some pain, tingling, and numbness on the arm. This should go away after a few days.


  • Do not drive.
  • Avoid pushing or pulling movements.
  • Do not put pressure on the operated shoulder.
  • Do not lift or carry objects with the operated arm.
  • Do not apply any ointment or cream on the surgical wound unless instructed by your doctor. Your wound must be kept dry.
  • Refrain from moving the operated shoulder unless instructed by your doctor or physical therapist.
  • Do not self-medicate. Ask your doctor first before taking any medications.

How long does the pain last after a rotator cuff surgery?

Your level of pain and recovery time will depend on a lot of factors including the type of injury and the repair done on your shoulder. Remember to take your pain medications at home.

Muscles on the shoulder need about nine months to fully regain their strength. This is why some people still experience pain on the operated shoulder until they become fully healed.

However, this pain should not be greater than the pain before the surgery and should be tolerable enough to allow you to continue with your daily activities.

If the pain continues to increase or if it is not getting better a week after the surgery, it is best to consult your doctor.

What happens 3 weeks after rotator cuff surgery?

You should be starting your physical therapy 3 weeks after surgery. The soreness and the pain in your operated shoulder should have decreased by this period. Desk work may be done during this time, but lifting is still not allowed.

At 3 weeks post-surgery, you may be asked to perform isometric exercises where you will need to contract your muscles without actually moving your arm.

Also, active-assisted range of motion exercises (AAROM) may be done in which you will be asked to move your arm in different directions with the assistance of a physical therapist.  

How many weeks of physical therapy do you need for rotator cuff surgery?

Physical therapy will likely be required after your surgery. It will help you regain your shoulder function faster and prevent the injury from reoccurring.

Rehabilitation during the first month will focus on minimizing pain and swelling and maintaining the range of motion of your shoulder through manual techniques.

After about a month, you will begin to perform active exercises such as isometric exercises and you may be able to actively move your shoulder away from your body. Around 2 months post-surgery, resistance exercises may begin.

Rehabilitation usually lasts between 4 months up to about 9 months depending on your response to the therapy. If you are an athlete, you may be able to return to sports within 4 to 6 months post-operation.

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