Post-operative care following shoulder surgery can vary quite a bit depending on what type of surgery you have. You may need to wear a sling for a few days to several weeks, or may just have a few days of rest and soreness.
When you first arrive in physical therapy, any dressings left on from surgery will be removed so the therapist can make sure it is healing well. Any open suture sites are re-covered as needed.
After any surgery, some pain or discomfort is expected. This should be controllable with pain medications, rest and ice. You should contact your surgeon if you have severe or uncontrollable pain. If you are not experiencing much pain and do not want to take pain medication, please talk to your surgeon prior to stopping as they may have safety instructions or have other non-prescription drug alternatives. If you have unused opioid pain medication, please dispose of properly, most police stations are drop off sites. Saving for a “rainy day” can lead to someone other than you taking it. Opioid abuse is an epidemic and the fastest growing drug taken by middle-schoolers.
After a few days, you should be able to take a shower and let water run over the incision. Baths, Jacuzzis and swimming pools should be avoided until the stitches or staples are removed and it is well healed. Your PT will guide you on when it is appropriate to wean off the sling (if one is present) and when it is safe to begin using your arm for daily activities. Tips on sleeping are frequently asked and can also be addressed by your PT. If you are having trouble sleeping but have not attended your first PT session, call the PT assigned to your case.
Physical therapy usually begins with gentle Range of Motion (ROM) while protecting the surgery. Minimizing any loss of motion and strength in the surrounding areas (neck, upper back, elbow, wrist and hand) is also key in the early stages, as is controlling your pain and any post-operative swelling.
When safe to proceed (depending on the surgery), gentle shoulder strengthening exercises are added to the program. As ROM, strength and motor control improve, your therapist will progress your program as appropriate and safe to bring you back to your goals. Whether it’s just daily chores and activities, work-related tasks or sports, it’s your PT’s job to help get you there as safely and as quickly as possible.
Remember, occasional flare-ups occur as you progress back to full function, but you are not going it alone. If you have questions as you progress, ask your PT. They have seen many of these surgeries and are experts at handling the ups and downs after shoulder surgery.