Things to Keep in Mind After a Rotator Cuff Surgery

ortho doctor with a patient

When it comes to the postoperative period, there are always certain restrictions until you are fully recovered. It is the same for rotator cuff surgery and even though the recovery can be challenging, most people get back to their day-to-day activities within 6 to 9 months.

The following are the things you should keep in mind throughout the postoperative period:

Overhead Activities

For the first 4 to 6 weeks, you will be placed in a splint and immobilized at all times. You can move your head and neck, but your arm motion should be limited. Especially, you cannot perform the overhead motion, such as reaching upwards or stretching.

Even after removing the splint after 6 weeks and you start range of motion exercise under supervision, you are going to feel pain and stiffness due to being immobilized for a long period.

Wear loose-fitting shirts instead of t-shirts to avoid overhead motion.

Carrying and Lifting

Carrying and lifting objects after shoulder surgery can cause damage to the repaired rotator cuff. Weakness and mechanical limitations will be present after surgery so you may not have the strength to carry or lift any object. You will undergo strength training with your therapist and it may even take more than 6 months to start lifting heavy weights.


Driving is not allowed for the first 6 to 12 weeks. Driving after rotator cuff surgery depends on how much muscle control you have. Driving is only allowed when you are completely off of your pain medications and have enough muscle control to maneuver the vehicle.

Regaining Strength

Therapy after rotator cuff surgery is done in stages.

Phase I – Passive range of motion

Phase II – You will go through an active-assisted range of motion, like stretching your shoulder.

Phase III – After 3 months from surgery, you will start new exercises to improve muscle strength and you may even start driving at this point. You will also be able to lift something heavier than tea cups.

Phase IV – At the end of 6 months, you are nearly close to complete healing and may continue physical therapy for further improvements.

Potential Complications

After a rotator cuff surgery, you may experience certain complications like stiffness, discomfort, and limited range of motion, if physical therapy is not taken seriously.
You may also have scar tissue formation due to lack of motion.
Recurrence of rotator cuff tear can also occur if you exert too much strain.
Infection at the surgical site, etc.

Compensatory Overuse

After surgery, your extremity will be immobilized for recovery purposes and your contralateral extremity is the one you can move. Doing all your necessary daily activities with one arm can be hard and this causes excess strain on the contralateral extremity. This compensatory overuse of the contralateral extremity can cause muscle strain or sprain and/or wear and tear of the cartilage and could aggravate any underlying conditions such as arthritis.

Carolina Regional Orthopaedics

Carolina Regional Orthopaedics provides the most effective, modern, and innovative techniques in both Orthopedic Surgery and Pain Management using proven methodologies in both the surgical and non-surgical treatment of all conditions affecting the spine, upper extremities, and lower extremities. We specialize in hand and wrist surgery, joint replacements, sports medicine, trauma care, pediatric orthopedics, pain management, wound care, regenerative medicine, physical therapy, imaging services, and EMG testing.