Your rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and they are there to stabilise your shoulder. They sit as the name suggests as a cuff around the shoulder joint. The muscles work in harmony to keep everything stable, if one gets injured, they can all become a little unhappy. The most likely injured and easiest to tear is the supraspinatus muscle. This is because it sits underneath your collar bone and is the smallest of the rotator cuff muscles. However, not all tears need to be surgically repaired. It depends on the size of the tear, if the symptoms have lasted up to 12 months, there is significant loss of function and weakness or the tear was recent and acute.
There are a couple of critical things for you to do and do not do post rotator cuff tear repair surgery.
Listen to the post operation physio exercises and follow them
Take your pain medication as instructed (don’t be a hero)
Talk to someone if something is worrying you or you’d like to double check the exercises
Panic – post surgery there will be lots of people around to help you out, just ask if you need something or you’re unsure
Deviate from the plan you’ve been given. Yes, it is true to say that some people heal faster than others and that different surgeries can be more or less traumatic BUT stick with the physio exercises you have been given and trust the physio to give you the correct exercises
Take your arm out of the brace until instructed.
Once you are in the physios hands and have been given the go ahead for free movement, work on getting your range back as soon as you can. This will make life a lot easier as time goes on. The next thing to work on is strength and control.
Your rehab will be completely tailored to you and your specific surgery. Be aware that post surgery you wont be able to lift your arm out to the side and you wont be able to externally rotate (if you place your hand on your tummy and tried to take it away from your tummy with your elbow in your side) This movement will be limited so your arm is straight in front of you.
Once you have got your movement back, its time to start the strengthening exercises. This is so that the muscles surround the shoulders build back up and lead to better functionality. Strength will need to be built up both linearly and in awkward positioning so to test the shoulder and again, create better functionality as life doesn’t happen linearly!
To give you an idea of sling use age timings, it will be in a sling for between 4 and 6 weeks. This gives the graft time to repair and will mean you can cause damage to it. During this time you can do gentle passive movements (using your other arm to assist) If you area sports person, it can take between 4 and 6 months before you will be able to start to be integrated back into sporting activities. Again, this will need to be slow and steady to allow the body to relearn what it has to do to accommodate the sport.
The take away: listen to the instructions, they will give you the best chance of success with your repair and enabling full functional movements.