Rotator Cuff Repair Surgery: Your Guide to an Optimal Recovery

Rotator Cuff Repair Surgery: Your Guide to an Optimal Recovery

You’re scheduled for rotator cuff surgery, and you’ve heard that recovery takes time. You’ll be off the court or field for a while, but you want to continue to play your favorite sport. Even if you’re not an athlete, you want to regain full range of motion and strength. 

Dr. Michael Hood, our board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, performs minimally invasive arthroscopic rotator cuff surgery when possible, reducing your recovery time when compared to traditional open surgery. 

You’ll need a helper in the first few weeks after surgery. Enlist a family member or friend to help you ensure a safe recovery. 

Following Dr. Hood’s instructions is essential to your healing. Here is the CliffsNotes® version of making an optimal recovery from rotator cuff surgery. 

Phase one: Immobilization 

Immediately after surgery, your arm is in a sling. You’ll wear the sling almost constantly for the first 4-6 weeks to help your tendon reattach to the bone. You won’t be able to lift, push, or pull anything or reach back behind you during this time. Your job is to protect your shoulder. 

Your loved one or a friend drives you to your doctor’s appointments. Don’t try to drive when your arm is in a sling. 

Medication and ice

You’ll be taking prescription pain medication for the first week or two and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers as needed after that. 

You’ll ice your shoulder off and on during the day using an ice pack. Never put ice directly on your skin. Ice is essential to controlling pain and swelling. 


It’s difficult to sleep in a normal flat position on your bed after rotator cuff surgery. If you have a recliner, it’s the best option for sleeping. 

If you don’t have a recliner, you’ll find it’s a good investment. You may want to use the recliner for several months after surgery. Use pillows if a recliner isn’t in the cards. 


Dr. Hood tells you when you can remove the sling to bend your elbow and move your fingers during the day so your joints don’t freeze up. Then you put the sling right back on your arm. 

Phase two: Physical therapy using passive motion 

Dr. Hood lets you know when you should begin physical therapy, normally at about the six-week mark after your operation. You have physical therapy right in our office, saving time and effort during your recovery because you can make physical therapy appointments for the same day as post-op appointments. 

At first, your therapist uses passive motion to move your rotator cuff. Supporting your arm, they move your shoulder without putting tension on your muscles and tendons. This stage of therapy might continue for about six weeks, depending on the severity of your tear. 

Phase three: Physical therapy using active motion and strengthening 

Dr. Hood lets your therapist know when you can begin using active motion, meaning you can move your arm by yourself. Your therapist shows you specific exercises to help you begin to increase your range of motion and use muscles that are still weak. 

Performing these exercises at home is essential to your recovery. You’ll only attain optimal recovery by doing the exercises. 

Your therapist tells you how many times per day to exercise and how many repetitions of each exercise to do. You’ll have some discomfort, so you may use over-the-counter pain relievers during this time. 

Once you’ve begun using active motion to exercise your shoulder, your therapist eventually transitions your exercises toward strengthening your muscles using a resistance band and other tools. Lifting heavy weights is still not recommended. 

Phase four: Full recovery 

Full recovery from rotator cuff surgery normally takes at least six months and may extend beyond that depending on the severity of your tear and your commitment to your physical therapy routine. 

Dr. Hood lets you know when you can return to play if you’re an athlete. You may need to use a brace or support during play. 

Call Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine or book an appointment online for expert rotator cuff care and all of your orthopedic needs. We have convenient offices in West Memphis, Arkansas, and Collierville, Tennessee.

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