Shoulder Surgery Recovery

Recovery from shoulder surgery depends on the patient’s health before surgery, the extent of damage, and the difficulty of the surgery. The recovery process is generally the same regardless of the surgical procedure – arthroscopic or open shoulder surgery.

Because your shoulders perform most all daily activities from brushing your teeth to getting dressed, they are in constant use. Healing from shoulder surgery generally requires on average six months, including a period of mandatory rest and immobility before active rehabilitation to restore range of motion and function. Immobilization of the shoulder allows the cartilage, tendon or ligament to begin healing. The process is slow. The first month and a half, the repaired tissues must grow into and reattach to the bone.

Healing from Open Surgery and Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery

The rate of healing is the same for both procedures. The shoulder will not heal faster because of minimally invasive arthroscopy. Patients may feel better but they do not heal faster.  

Post op Instruction

Your OSNC shoulder surgeon will provide you with instruction on wound care, bandaging, pain management and mobility restrictions.

The Healing Process

  • The first three months the focus is on healing of the damaged tissues: cartilage, ligaments or tendons. The first 4-6 weeks the patient can anticipate pain, and difficulty sleeping while the tendons, ligaments or cartilage begin healing. Both pain and sleep position can be managed to reduce discomfort.
  • The next three months are focused on recovery of strength and function.
  • There will be continual improvement for up to one year after surgery. 

The First 4-6 weeks after surgery

The key is pain management.  Cold therapy can be used to reduce pain and swelling.

Immobilization with a sling is necessary to stabilize your shoulder and will be used to allow your shoulder to heal.  Depending on the extent of your surgery, it may be needed for 4-6 weeks after surgery. You may move your elbow, wrist, hand and fingers but must avoid moving your shoulder. You will also need help for dressing, washing, personal daily habits, cooking, and driving. During the first month after surgery, you will not be able to drive or lift heavy objects. The shoulder will be stiff due to lack of movement.

Physical Therapy

After surgery, your doctor will prescribe physical therapy. You will work with one of OSNC’s board-certified physical therapists who will guide and assist you in performing gentle exercises to reduce pain and improve range of motion. You will be provided with specific exercises for this purpose.

When the sling is removed, a comprehensive rehabilitation program will be provided where you continue with exercise to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion for about 3 months. Your shoulder is still healing.

At three months the pain should be minimal, and you will be able to enjoy normal daily activities and improved range of motion. Once you have regained strength and flexibility, rehabilitation is still key to preventing re-injury. By six months you should be pain free with restored strength and range of motion.

Your motivation and dedication to your rehab program will help you regain range of motion and strength that will lead to your successful recovery.

The shoulder surgeons at OSNC have the greatest degree of skill and familiarity with arthroscopic techniques and can often repair even the most severe tears and damage with minimally invasive surgery.

However, there are situations in which the patient and surgeon agree that open surgery will be more advantageous for the patient. The choice of treatment is dependent on the severity of the condition and the patient’s physical health.

Orthopedic Specialists of North County serve patients in Greater San Diego County including Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, Escondido, Carlsbad, Encinitas and Solana Beach, California.

Schedule a consultation with one of our superior orthopedic surgeons to learn how we can help you regain mobility and live pain free.


"The entire team at OSNC is great, very professional and took the time to put me at ease. And I only have praise for the Dr. Erik Stark, a wonderful doctor who never disappoints!" Patient of Dr. Erik Stark
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