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Rotator Cuff Surgery Recovery Timeline

The surgical repair of a torn rotator cuff involves attaching the tendons to bones. This write-up provides the surgery recovery timeline.
Smita Pandit
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
The rotator cuff refers to a set of four muscles and tendons which form a cuff over the shoulder joint. Both these muscles and tendons are attached to the margins of the humeral head, which is a part of the glenohumeral joint. Damage to these tendons or muscles due to trauma or repetitive strain is most likely to restrict the range of motion associated with the shoulder or arms. In some cases, surgery is recommended to alleviate the symptoms and restore the normal range of motion.
Surgical Procedure
This surgical procedure is performed when conservative treatment options are unable to alleviate inflammation and pain around the rotator cuff. If a person has is experiencing great difficulty while using the arm overhead or has a bone spur around this area, doctors might resort to this surgical procedure. The procedure involves the use of shoulder arthroscopy to check for inflammation and tears in the tendons. The inflamed, damaged tissues or bone spurs are then removed. If the tendon has to be attached to the bone, open incisions are made and the tendon is attached to the bone with the help of sutures. The last stage of this surgical procedure is closing the incision and applying the dressing.
Recovery Timeline
The rotator cuff surgery recovery timeline generally depends on the extent of damage caused by the injury. Though this surgery is an outpatient procedure and doesn't require one to be hospitalized, the time one may take to recover from the surgery could range from 5-6 months. The condition continues to improve, and the shoulder's condition is usually restored to normal within 9-12 months post surgery. Generally, anti-inflammatory drugs are administered to provide relief from pain. Doctors generally stress on passive range of motion and pain management in the initial stages of rehabilitation.
The patient has to be very careful during the rehabilitation period. The site of incisions must be kept dry, especially till they heal. After the surgery, the patient will have to wear a sling for about 4-6 weeks. The sling must be removed, only while performing exercises. Vigorous movements must be completely avoided. The patient must avoid lifting weights for 2-3 months, and shouldn't lie on the operated side.
Physiotherapy is an integral part of the treatment. The physiotherapist guides the patient regarding the motion of the shoulder and arms, so that there's no stress to the shoulder joint complex. After seeing visible signs of improvement in the range of motion of the arms and joint, the physiotherapist will move on to exercises. Now, the arm can be moved but care has to be taken so that there is no stress. This stage lasts for another 6 weeks.
After this stage, the physiotherapist will teach certain exercises that will help to strengthen the shoulder joint complex. The aim is to help the patient get back the normal range of motion. One may need to perform these stretches for another 6-12 weeks. During this time, doctors would monitor the healing process regularly.
The average recovery time for the rotator cuff surgery is about 5-6 months, but some people might take longer to recover. The success rate of this procedure is higher, if the tear is repaired soon after the surgery, and the tendon was healthy prior to the injury.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.