No one likes the thought of surgery, but your rotator cuff injury had you sidelined and conservative treatments just weren’t the answer. You wanted to continue playing the sports you love, so arthroscopic rotator cuff repair surgery was the best choice. With surgery behind you, it’s time to start working your way back into your sport. Knowing how long your recovery is going to take helps you better prepare mentally for the downtime involved.
Rotator cuff surgery — even arthroscopic surgery — requires at least four to six months of healing before you can fully engage in your usual sports. The time required for recovery depends on your particular injury — partial tear versus full tear versus shoulder tendinitis, for example.
At Texas Orthopaedic Associates, we want you to have a successful recovery, and that means following these five tips for returning to sports after arthroscopic rotator cuff surgery.
Follow your plan for recovery
If you know the timeline for complete healing beforehand, you can work through each stage of recovery fully so you don’t rush it and unintentionally re-injure your shoulder.
During the first stage, we immobilize your shoulder in a sling, which you wear 24/7. Depending on your surgery, you start physical therapy a few weeks after the operation, first doing passive-motion exercises and later doing more rigorous strengthening exercises designed to bring your shoulder back to full range of motion.
If you want to return to playing your sport as soon as you can, following our instructions precisely is a must for healing properly from this surgery.
Continue doing exercises prescribed in physical therapy
After your four-to-six-month recovery period, continue doing the stretches and exercises your physical therapist showed you. They help maintain your recovery and prevent future injury.
Do warmup stretches and exercises before playing your sport
Forget about jumping right on the tennis court with your racquet and starting to play. After arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, you need warmup exercises before you play your sport.
Do warmup stretches followed by simple exercises your physical therapist showed you. The warmup helps your circulatory system deliver nutrients to your shoulder — and body — and warms up your muscles, ligaments, and tendons for the job ahead.
A warmup should take 15-20 minutes depending on the weather, your age, and your physical condition. If it’s hot and humid, the warmup may take less time, while in cool weather, it may take longer.
If you play a racquet sport, for example, your rotator cuff gets a workout with every shot. Rotator cuff injury is common in tennis players, baseball pitchers, swimmers, and even weightlifters — usually from overuse, but skipping warmups is a contributing factor. You reduce your chance of re-injuring your rotator cuff if you prepare your shoulders.
Start with shorter periods of play
When you do get the all-clear to return to a sport you love, don’t overdo it. You may want to go out and compete like you normally did — but don’t do it when you’re just starting out after recovering from the surgery. Start with short, non-competitive practice sessions, moving gradually over a number of weeks to playing a few games or swimming a few laps at a time.
Do cool-down exercises after playing
In the past, you may have simply hit the showers and socialized with friends playing your sport. Now you must do cool-down exercises (if you don’t already) to protect your surgically repaired shoulder.
Your physical therapist can provide instructions for cool-down exercises to help calm post-workout soreness and prevent your muscles from tightening up. The exercises also help remove waste from muscles and stop blood from pooling where it shouldn’t. A cool-down may take 20-30 minutes, so build the extra time into your schedule.