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How long will I be in pain after rotator cuff surgery?

How Long Will I Be in Pain After Rotator Cuff Surgery?
3 minutes, 17 seconds

It’s estimated that U.S. surgeons perform more than 460,000 rotator cuff surgeries per year. Most people who have rotator cuff surgery can expect to feel some level of pain for at least six months after their procedure

In this article, you’ll learn about factors that can affect how long you will be in pain after rotator cuff surgery.

5 factors that can affect how long you will be in pain after rotator cuff surgery

Every patient who has surgery is different, and how long you’ll be in pain after rotator cuff surgery will be different from friends or other people who have had this surgery. Five factors that can affect how long your pain lasts are:

1. Tear size

Generally, smaller rotator cuff tears can be surgically repaired more easily. This leads to less trauma, and it can affect how long your postoperative pain lasts. However, your surgery and recovery are likely to take longer if you have a larger tear. 

2. Surgery type

There are two main types of rotator cuff surgery: open surgery and arthroscopic surgery. Open surgery involves the surgeon making a large incision in your shoulder. This allows them to access the area that needs repairing. 

Arthroscopic surgery involves the surgeon making small cuts in the skin. A small camera is inserted into one of the incisions so the surgeon can see the damaged area. Special tools are then inserted into the other incisions to perform the repair. The decreased trauma caused by arthroscopic surgery can translate into faster recovery times. 

3. Whether you do pre-surgical rehab

Pre-surgical rehab, or “pre-hab,” is a type of physical therapy. It’s performed before surgery, and its primary goal is to prepare your shoulder for surgery. Some of the ways pre-hab meets this goal include: 

  • Having you do therapeutic exercises to strengthen and stretch your shoulder. 
  • Increasing your familiarity with therapy methods you’ll be using after surgery. 
  • Decreasing post-surgical pain. 

4. Age

Unfortunately, our bodies take longer to repair as we age. Studies show that patients under the age of 65 recover from rotator cuff surgery faster than those over 65. While genetics play a factor and some people may recover quickly despite their age, patient age may correlate to slowed recovery time.

5. Patient health

The same study cited in the previous section shows slowed recovery times in patients with osteoporosis, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes. These conditions can inhibit the body’s ability to repair itself, which can lead to delayed recovery time.

Tips for speeding up your recovery time after rotator cuff surgery

Here are a few tips that may decrease the amount of time you’re in pain after rotator cuff surgery:

  • Sleep upright — Lying flat on your back puts pressure on your upper extremities that can cause pain and inflammation. To avoid this, sleep in an upright position, or at least as upright as possible. Many people find that sleeping in a reclining chair or armchair is comfortable and helps to limit pain.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help — You may not like asking for help, but it can limit the amount of pain you experience during recovery. Lifting can irritate and cause inflammation in your muscles. Try not to lift anything so heavy that it places pressure on your affected shoulder. 
  • Stick to your physical therapy treatment plan — Physical therapy happens in and outside of the physical therapy clinic. While only 35% of patients fully comply with their therapist’s instructions, performing your at-home exercises can help to reduce pain. Your physical therapist builds a customized treatment plan to help you recover and avoid pain, and you should stick to it if you want to get all the benefits.

Alliance clinics offer effective post-surgical rehab for rotator cuff surgery patients

Wondering how long your pain will last after your surgery? Visit one of our physical therapy clinics for a screening.

Our physical therapists are adept at creating pre- and post-surgical rehab plans designed to help you recover as fast as possible. We can also help you get care from home thanks to our virtual therapy and at-home care services (available at some clinics). Even more important, you can start seeing us before or after surgery, even if you don’t have a doctor’s referral (in most states).

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

*Note: This article is a revision of one originally posted by an Alliance Physical Therapy partner.

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