What to Expect after Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Rehabilitation After Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Now that your shoulder replacement surgery is complete, you may have many questions. What can you expect during your recovery period? How long will your recovery take? Will you be in any pain? When will you be able to use your arm? When will you be able to go back to work? Find some answers below.

After Surgery and in the Hospital

When surgery is completed, your surgeon will update your family and friends on your condition and progress. You will remain in the recovery room for at least an hour or until the anesthesia has worn off and your blood pressure and pulse are stable. If you have pain, the nurses will give you medication.

Once out of surgery, your surgeon will decide whether your arm will be in a shoulder splint or shoulder immobilizer in order to protect and position your shoulder. However, this immobility won’t keep you from starting physical therapy.

Exercises typically begin on the day after surgery with emphasis on moving the shoulder, wrist, and hand. For the first 8-12 weeks the focus of physical therapy will be on achieving full motion, but not strength. With surgeon approval, strengthening exercises will begin at about twelve weeks from the time of surgery. This delay is necessary to allow the tissues to heal. Starting strengthening exercises too early may lead to complications.

When You Are Discharged from the Hospital

You can expect to be released from the hospital one to two days after surgery. Before you are released, your surgeon and physical therapist will talk with you about the importance of limiting any sudden or stressful movements to the arm for several weeks or longer. Activities that involve pushing, pulling, and lifting should not be done until you are given permission from your surgeon.

Your First Day at Home

You may need help with your daily activities, so it is a good idea to have family and friends prepared to help you. With their help, you will need to do the exercises you learned while in the hospital, four to six times daily. These exercises gradually increase the movement in your joint, so it is important to do them as scheduled.

Don’t forget to wear the sling every night for at least the first month after surgery, and never use your arm to push yourself up in bed or from a chair. The added weight on your shoulder may cause you to re-injure the joint.

How to Cope in the First Week

You are encouraged to return to your normal eating and sleeping patterns as soon as possible. It is important for you to be active in order to control your weight and muscle tone. But remember to increase your activity level or exercises only as your surgeon has directed.

You might be able to return to work within several days. Consult with your doctor, as this differs from patient to patient. However, if your job requires heavy lifting or climbing, there may be a delay for several months.

Until you see your surgeon for your first follow-up visit, make certain that your wound stays dry and is not draining. If you notice any drainage or a foul odor from your incision, please contact your surgeon. Also, if your temperature goes above 101.5 degrees, call your surgeon.

What You Can Expect in the First Month

Your stitches or staples will be removed at 7-14 days after surgery, but remember, it is quite common to still experience pain surrounding the surgical site.

You will be doing your own physical therapy for the first 8-12 weeks. You may read more about this on the rehabilitation page.

At about 12 weeks after surgery you will start a progressive strengthening program. Physical therapy is a deliberate process of not only strengthening your shoulder but also altering how you use your arm. It may be many months before your desired results are achieved, so do not get discouraged.

Your shoulder will generally continue to improve steadily up to five to six months after surgery. After that point further improvement is very slow; although it has been shown that even after a year or more, activity can increase as muscle strength continues to improve.

When can you get behind the wheel of your car? Driving should wait until you can perform the necessary functions comfortably and confidently. This may take up to one month or longer if the surgery has been performed on the right shoulder because of the increased demands for shifting gears. Since every patient is different, only your surgeon can give you the proper advice in this area.

After the First Month at Home

Because each person heals differently, there are different recovery timelines. An average recovery period typically lasts about six months. You should not participate in contact sports or do heavy lifting. Talk with your surgeon about which activities will be appropriate for you once you have recovered