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Here are 13 of the top shoulder surgery recovery tips from the musculoskeletal professionals at PeerWell Health.

If you've just had surgery, there are many powerful things you can do to improve your recovery results. Discover the right things to get better quickly -- such as doing physical therapy, setting your house up properly, following your surgeon's advice and tending to your wound.

13 tips after shoulder surgery:

Get creative with your sleep routine

“I’m having difficulty sleeping,” is one of the most common complaints after shoulder surgery.

If you’re uncomfortable, try sleeping in a recliner or an angled pillow. Some people find it easier to sleep in a slightly upright position. You can also sleep on your uninjured side, if you’re a side sleeper. Play around with pillows. Prop up your shoulder so it’s higher than the rest of your body. Ice before bed. Wear your sling during the day and to bed.

Do passive motion exercises

It’s essential to do passive physical therapy after shoulder surgery.

Passive physical therapy keeps your shoulder supple and moving, while helping healing. Early passive ROM exercises “accelerate healing, reduce stiffness and do not increase the risk of re-tear”. The pendulum swing is the most commonly recommended passive range of motion exercise. Inside the PeerWell app, we’ve got a tool to help you practice! If you’re a PeerWell patient, ask your physical therapist about getting access to it.  

 

Take care of your wound

Is moving bad for back pain? Runner prepares
A clean wound is a healthy wound.

Following your care team’s instructions on how and when to clean your wound helps you avoid infections.

Be on the lookout for W-O-R-S-T after surgery:

  • Worsening, discolored or foul smelling discharge from your wound or excessive bleeding
  • Out of breath, chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Red streaks near your incision
  • Sharp pains
  • Temperature of 101 degrees F or greater
  • If you have any of the WORST symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately. 

Do RICE each day

Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation are wound 101.

Take time for rest. Ice for 20 minutes every hour (or as advised) will help bring down swelling and reduce pain. Compress your wound but only if told to do so by your surgeon. Elevating your shoulder above your heart (such as by sleeping in a recliner or in a semi-sitting position) can reduce swelling and pain.

Choose comfort over style

women stretching for back pain
Choosing comfortable clothes can save you time, and potentially injury.

Loose, oversized clothes are easiest to put on after surgery. Consider slip-on shoes which can also make life easier. For women, wearing a sports bra or built-in bra can help you avoid awkward and painful reaching. Use headbands or easy to open clips for long hair. 

Slow and steady wins the race

After shoulder surgery, it’s important not to rush your recovery.

Trying to do things you’re not authorized to do yet can lead to permanent injury. Always follow your surgeon’s instructions and movement limitations carefully. Don’t rush into old activities or new exercises without your surgeon or physical therapist's approval.

Use that sling

Wearing a sling gives your tissues and ligaments the stillness they need to repair and grow back together in the proper way.

Follow your surgeon’s sling instructions. Generally, you’ll be wearing your slings for a few weeks or months after surgery. This is completely normal. By wearing your sling as asked to, you set yourself up to heal better.

 

Respect those 'not allowed' movements

Some things are off-limits after shoulder surgery and that’s just how it is.

It takes one year for the soft tissue in your shoulder to heal. This means it's very important to take care of your repair. This probably means no lifting, no overhead movements, no sports. Waiting the right amount of time means a safe, full recovery. Overstressing your repair can mean re-injury, permanent pain or worse results.

Get familiar with no-chop recipes

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Cooking after shoulder surgery becomes difficult.

Just like after other upper body surgeries, cooking gets tough. We wrote an article on 8 no-chop ways to cook delicious meals. Just like after wrist surgery, shoulder surgery makes cutting, chopping and lifting difficult. Whip up quick meals in the kitchen without pain with these no chop tips and recipes. 8 expert tips for cooking with a broken wrist (with recipes!)

 

Get your kitchen on the right level 

Bring your kitchen essentials to hip level.

Having things on an easy-to-reach, hip-level surface saves you the strain of reaching overhead or stretching down.  Avoid using heavy cast-iron pots and pans. Lifting heavy objects is off-limits after shoulder surgery. Be protective against heavy lifting. This can damage your repair and cause a tear.

Stock your kitchen with high-fiber foods

Add some oatmeal to your diet! By eating high-fiber foods -- like whole grains, vegetables and fruit -- you’ll set yourself up for a healthy recovery and beat post-surgery constipation (a very common side effect of opioids). Read more about how whole grains improve surgery results in Eat for less pain and better health -- How whole grains help.

Say ‘no’ to too much rest

Stay active and moving after surgery.

Just because you can’t move your shoulder doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active. Walking after surgery is key for circulation and preventing blood clots. Walking will also help you feel better, have less pain and get a better night’s rest at the end of the day.

 

Be proactive about your recovery!

Your results are up to you. Be vigilant about doing your exercises, protecting your repair and having regular visits with surgery recovery professionals. Always talk to your physical therapist before going back to a new sport or activity.

Want a personalized recovery plan?

Join the thousands taking care of themselves with a holistic, patient-first approach.

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