Is It Time For Rotator Cuff Repair?

A torn rotator cuff can put anyone out of action. A tendon in the shoulder tears, often due to a collision, overexertion, or wear and tear. Pain medication, bracing, and physical therapy can help. However, if these methods fail, some patients will require rotator cuff repair surgery. Surgery re-attaches the torn tendon, but there’s a long rehab period ahead.

How long is rotator cuff repair recovery?

Rotator cuff surgery has come a long way. Now, patients can benefit from minimally invasive surgery. The surgeon can use 2-3 incisions the size of buttonholes to access and repair the tendon. This technique reduces bleeding and the chances of infection, which, in turn, speeds up healing. Despite these advancements, recovery still takes several months. The recovery timeline is just one of several points patients need to know.

Time to heal

Immediately after surgery, the repaired tendon needs time to heal. The shoulder will be placed with a sling for about 2-4 weeks. Pain management is critical with a combination of rest, icing, and pain medication. The rehab process also involves relearning to perform everyday tasks like bathing, sleeping, and changing clothes. After 2-4 weeks, the surgeon will remove the stitches and give the all-clear for physical therapy.

It’s time for therapy

Physical therapy involves a range of exercises and techniques to improve strength and flexibility. Patients should have minor range of motion (ROM) to move on to therapy. Therapy sessions will begin with a combination of passive motion and isometric motion. The therapist gently moves the arm with passive motion to encourage ROM and blood flow. Isometric exercises are steps that contract the muscles without moving the shoulder. This stage of therapy happens 2-3 times per week for several weeks.

Work from home

Between physical therapy visits, patients will also rehab at home. The speed and success of recovery depend on actions away from the therapist. The patient will continue with gentle exercise several times per day as recommended by the therapist. Some patients may feel frustrated with the pace of exercise. However, the muscle and tendon need to smoothly, gradually regain motion. Patients should rest and not overtrain to avoid injury.

Kicking things up

As the weeks go by, patients should feel significantly less pain and have more ROM. Lifting objects less than 10 pounds is also possible at the 8-week mark. Patients should perform extension, flexion, rotation, and overhead exercises with more ease. The therapist will introduce resistance bands and exercise balls at the 8-week mark. These tools are critical for functional strength and muscle building.

Rehab timeline varies

Patients should expect this rehab stage to last 4-6 months. At this point, most patients can return to recreational activities and perform general tasks without pain. However, the rehab timeline can vary due to general health and age factors. In addition, professional athletes may need additional time to get back to fitness. Rotator cuff repair is an effective way to restore function to the damaged tendon. However, success is also dependent on an effective rehab program.