How to Recover After Shoulder Surgery

 woman recovering from shoulder surgery 

We rely on our shoulders for a number of daily activities that we do without a moment’s thought: carrying groceries, putting away dishes, sweeping the floor, and embracing our loved ones. The shoulder is one of the loosest joints in the body, and its flexibility is one of its greatest strengths. Unfortunately, this freedom of movement also makes the shoulder vulnerable to injury. Common shoulder problems include rotator cuff tears, shoulder dislocation, frozen shoulder, fractured collarbone and AC joint separation, osteoarthritis, and bursitis or tendinitis. Often, non-surgical treatments can help restore shoulder function and provide relief from pain. But sometimes, shoulder surgery is the best option for advanced or severe shoulder issues.  

If your doctor has recommended shoulder surgery, he or she has probably also informed you that you should not expect to recover overnight.  Although healing from shoulder surgery takes time, there are some things you can do to help accelerate the process.  Whether you plan to recover at home or at a skilled nursing facility, take a look at the following 7 tips for how to best recover after shoulder surgery


1. Follow your doctor’s instructions

Chances are, you chose a skilled and experienced surgeon to perform your shoulder surgery. So you should also trust that he or she wants you to heal as quickly as possible and would not steer you wrong by way of post-op instructions. Your doctor will likely prescribe pain medication and antibiotics, ask you to keep the shoulder immobile for a number of weeks, and suggest that you refrain from certain movements and activities. Following these instructions carefully is the first part of a healthy recovery from your shoulder surgery.

2. Maintain a healthy diet

Proper nutrition during recovery from a shoulder injury provides your body with what it needs to heal and repair.  Foods high in vitamins C and E and a diet high in lean protein will help promote proper healing, reduce inflammation, and fight off infection. A healthy diet during this time can also help prevent weight gain and minimize the risk of depression that sometimes sets in during periods of limited activities. 

3. Sleep well

Sleep plays a significant role in the body’s healing process. It’s not just the amount of sleep we get that’s important, but also the quality of sleep.  When recovering from shoulder surgery, it can be difficult to achieve deep, healthy sleep.  You may benefit from sleeping in a reclined position rather than flat on your back.  Timing your pain medications to a half-hour or so before you go to bed can help as well. Wearing your sling at night may keep your shoulder from moving into painful positions while you sleep. Ask your doctor for further recommendations on how to get the best sleep possible while you recover from your shoulder surgery. 

4. Participate in physical therapy

Physical therapy is an important part of recovery from shoulder surgery. It helps to accelerate healing and restore strength, mobility, and range of motion. Physical therapy will begin shortly after your surgery, though the shoulder itself will remain immobile in those first days and weeks.  Early therapy may include flexing the wrist and fingers, passive movement of the arm, and after a few weeks, your physical therapist will introduce gradual movement of the shoulder and strength training. It’s crucial to participate in physical therapy at the pace set by your therapist.

5. Practice patience

Recovery from shoulder surgery is a process that requires time and patience. If you are accustomed to an active lifestyle, it may be challenging to wear a sling and limit your activities to those approved by your doctor, but it’s important that you heed your doctor’s advice.  If you push yourself too soon, you risk further damage and disruption of the healing process.  Rest and patience are key factors when it comes to achieving a full recovery. 

6. Ask for help

In the early days and weeks following your shoulder surgery, some of the daily tasks you are accustomed to will be difficult or impossible to do on your own.  It’s important that you ask for help when you need it rather than putting your recovery at risk by attempting to do it all on your own. Sometimes, a short-term rehabilitation program in a skilled nursing facility is the best option for getting the rest and help you need during your recovery period. The skilled nursing care, assistance with activities of daily living, on-site physical therapy and occupational therapy, and nutritious meals provided in a therapeutic environment will allow you to focus on healing, building strength, and regaining your independence.

7. Follow up with your doctor

In the year or so following your surgery, your doctor will likely want to see you for several follow-up visits to make sure you are healing and progressing as expected.  Scheduling and attending these appointments as advised by your doctor is an important part of ensuring that you regain as much strength, mobility, and function in your shoulder as possible.  

Bella Vista provides a nurturing environment for recovery in San Diego

At Bella Vista Health Center, we offer short-term rehabilitation for patients recuperating from surgery, injury, or illness.  Our 5-star skilled nursing facility in Lemon Grove provides a warm, welcoming environment as well as top-notch medical professionals dedicated to helping patients achieve full recovery in the shortest time possible. If you or a loved one is seeking a place to transition from hospital to home, please give us a call to schedule a tour today. We look forward to serving you.