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Preparing for rotator cuff surgery: Our 5-step guide

Preparing for Rotator Cuff Surgery
3 minutes, 49 seconds

Your rotator cuff includes four muscles and dozens of tendons that mobilize your shoulder joint. Together, they help move and rotate your shoulder in multiple directions and help you perform activities like lifting and pulling objects. 

Like all tissue in your body, rotator cuff muscles and tendons can only withstand a limited amount of force, stress, and impact. They can tear if you suddenly strain them past their limit or if you overuse them over time. Those who are very active — like athletes, military personnel, and manual laborers — are more at risk of developing a rotator cuff injury.  

If your rotator cuff injury is serious enough, your doctor may recommend surgery as the next best treatment. Before surgery, however, you need to prepare to ensure that your rotator cuff is healthy enough to withstand the traumas related to surgery. Most surgeons will recommend that you go to physical therapy both before and after your surgery date. Physical therapists can use expert techniques to prepare your rotator cuff injury for surgery and fast-track your recovery time. 

What is a rotator cuff injury?

Your rotator cuff injury may be linked to several different kinds of injuries. If you strained one or more of the muscles in your rotator cuff, you may experience a dull ache in your shoulder throughout the day and limited mobility. Your rotator cuff injury may also involve a torn tendon. Depending on the severity of the tear, you could experience mild or intense pain when trying to move your shoulder.

Surgery can help reduce rotator cuff pain if other treatments haven’t shown significant results. Rotator cuff repair surgery often involves reattaching a tendon to the humerus bone. Surgery recovery after a rotator cuff tear can be painful, lasting at least six months. Thankfully, prehabilitation and rehabilitation exercises in physical therapy can help prepare your shoulder and curb your recovery time. 

5 steps to prepare for rotator cuff surgery

Depending on the severity of your rotator cuff injury, your shoulder surgery may be complex. As a result, your doctor may recommend physical therapy before your surgery to build up your strength, endurance, and stamina and ensure a healthy recovery post-operation. Physical therapists can prepare a pre-surgery treatment plan for your rotator cuff, which may include: 

  1. Maximizing your range of motion — After a rotator cuff injury, your shoulder can become stiff and painful, making it uncomfortable to move. However, if your rotator cuff does not have adequate blood flow leading up to surgery, you may be at a higher risk of developing chronic rotator cuff pain after surgery. Physical therapists can slowly reintroduce your shoulder to its maximum range of motion via targeted exercises. Physical therapists can also help you establish goals to increase your mobility after each session.
  2. Increasing your shoulder strength — Physical therapy can strengthen the four muscles in your rotator cuff by increasing the intensity of exercises over time. By improving your muscular strength, your muscles will better be able to support and stabilize your shoulder joint and reduce your risk of further injury.
  3. Reducing your inflammation — In between your injury and surgery date, you may still have swelling or inflammation in your rotator cuff. If you have excessive inflammation before surgery, your surgeon may not be able to operate on your tissue as easily or smoothly. Physical therapists can work with you to increase circulation and decrease fluid accumulation so that your surgery is as efficient as possible.
  4. Releasing tension — You want the tissue surrounding your rotator cuff to be as supple and nutrient-rich as possible before surgery. With healthy pre-surgery muscular tissue, you may be able to have a smoother post-surgery recovery. Physical therapy techniques such as dry needling can target points of tension beneath the surface of your skin and encourage their release, preparing your rotator cuff for surgery.
  5. Building an at-home treatment plan — Your post-surgery treatment plan may be complicated, consisting of many instructions as you move through recovery. Your physical therapist can help you prepare for the days and weeks after rotator cuff surgery by introducing you to common post-op exercises and stretches ahead of time. This way, your rehabilitation plan may not feel overwhelming when the time comes.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find PT that prepares you for rotator cuff surgery

Do you need support leading up to your rotator cuff surgery? Physical therapists can work with you to prepare your shoulder and ensure that you are as strong and healthy as possible leading up to your surgery. At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address your rotator cuff injury.

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find help for your injury or chronic condition today!


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