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Healing from Rotator Cuff Surgery: What to Expect

Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, much like your hip. Of course, if you think about how your hip moves versus how your shoulder moves, you realize there are some big differences. Your arm’s range of motion is enormous compared with the range of motion in your hip. 

That’s largely because the socket in your shoulder joint is much shallower, and the ball is held in place mostly by soft tissue, whereas your hip socket is much deeper, which both limits your range of motion and protects the joint. The trade-off for the impressive range of motion in your shoulder is vulnerability to injury. 

At Orthocenter, in Red Bank, Morganville, and Holmdel, New Jersey, our highly skilled physicians have performed thousands of shoulder surgeries. We understand that the prospect of surgery can be scary, and beyond surgery, you may have questions about recovery. 

What will you be able to do? How long will the pain last? Will you recover your previous level of strength and range of motion? 

The answers to those questions vary, depending on your specific injury, your medical history, and many other factors. We do everything we can to help you have a smooth and complete recovery, beginning now with some thoughts on what to expect. 

Your rotator cuff in action

Your rotator cuff holds the top of your arm bone — the ball in your ball-and-socket — in the shallow depression of your shoulder blade — the socket. When you raise your arm overhead, or swing your arm in a circle, your rotator cuff holds everything in place.

Common problems

Sometimes, the soft tissues of your rotator cuff get frayed, or partially torn. The pain can be intense, and the usual surgery is called a debridement. It involves cleaning up the frayed bits of tissue and smoothing it so it doesn’t continue to tear and break down. When a tendon tears completely, your surgeon stitches it back in place on your bone. 

Before recommending surgery, your doctor may have suggested other treatments. In some cases, your doctor won’t recommend surgery unless your symptoms have lasted 6-12 months — so you’re probably tired of being in pain! 

That’s not always the case, though. Sometimes surgery is the best option sooner, such as if you have a large tear in your rotator cuff, or you’ve endured a recent, acute trauma. 

The aftermath

Your recovery period depends to some degree on the procedure you have. However, there are a few things that all shoulder surgery patients can expect. 


Just about any surgical procedure you can think of involves some pain in the aftermath. We do what we can to help manage your pain.


Immediately following surgery, your shoulder is immobilized. This gives your rotator cuff time to begin healing. This stage usually lasts 4-6 weeks. 


Also, all shoulder surgery patients can count on needing rehabilitation. In order to regain your range of motion and strength, you’ll need some physical therapy. 

Passive, active exercise

Most patients begin with what’s known as passive exercise. That’s when your doctor or physical therapist supports your arm while moving it into various positions. Your muscles are very weak, so the support is necessary. 

Once you’ve regained some strength, you move on to active exercises, where you move your muscles on your own. It’s important for you to follow your doctor’s instructions and progress gradually. 

Complete recovery after shoulder surgery usually takes several months. Your rotator cuff needs time to heal, and then it takes some time for you to get stronger. By following a careful program, you regain strength at a sustainable pace that should help you avoid reinjury. 

If you have questions about recovering from rotator cuff surgery, schedule an appointment. We’re happy to talk to you about your specific situation and help you understand what you should expect.

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