Your recovery from shoulder surgery will depend on several factors. These include your type of injury and surgery and your overall health.

Your shoulder joint can be damaged through an injury or trauma, overuse, or the natural aging process. This damage is sometimes repaired using surgery. There are many types of shoulder surgery. Some are more invasive than others.

Let’s review what recovery from shoulder surgery might look like for you.

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of shoulder surgery: traditional open surgeries and arthroscopic shoulder surgeries. Arthroscopic shoulder surgeries use smaller, minimally invasive incisions.

There are few types of open and arthroscopic shoulder surgeries. These include:

Most shoulder surgeries will involve general anesthesia. You can expect to be in a recovery room when you wake up from surgery.

You may feel groggy and confused as the anesthesia wears off, among other side effects, but these generally pass in a few hours.

A team of healthcare professionals will monitor you. You may be given pain medication and offered ice chips or juice after you’re more alert. Depending on the type of surgery you have, your shoulder might be bandaged or immobilized.

Most arthroscopic shoulder surgeries are outpatient procedures, meaning you’ll be able to go home the same day as the surgery. Because of the lingering effects of the anesthesia and your limited shoulder mobility, you won’t be allowed to drive yourself.

For more intensive shoulder surgeries, you may need to remain in the hospital for a few days. You can expect to go home after regaining all of your typical functions after surgery.

Many shoulder surgeries are meant to relieve pain, but you might experience pain in the short term while you recover from the surgery.

You may be prescribed pain medication or other pain-management treatments after surgery, including:

Opioid safety notice

Opioids are highly effective pain medications. However, it’s important to know that they do have the potential for addiction and misuse.

There are a few steps you can take for safer opioid use:

  • Tell your doctor if you have a history of substance misuse. They can carefully monitor your medication regimen during your recovery period.
  • Follow the directions listed on your prescription. Taking too much or taking a dose incorrectly, such as crushing pills before taking them, may lead to serious side effects, including difficulty breathing or overdose.
  • Speak with your doctor about what substances to avoid while taking opioids. Mixing opioids with alcohol, antihistamines (such as diphenhydramine), benzodiazepines (such as Xanax or Valium), muscle relaxants (such as Soma or Flexeril), or sleep aids (such as Ambien or Lunesta) can increase your risk of dangerously slowed breathing.
  • Store your medications in a secure place and out of reach of children. If you have unused opioid pills, take them to a community drug take-back program for disposal.
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The size of your wound will depend on your surgery. You might have stitches or staples that need to be removed, or you might have other types of closures that are self-healing. You doctor will provide specific information on wound care before you go home.

You’ll generally want to keep the area dry and clean. You can use ice packs on the area to reduce swelling, but place a clean cloth between the ice pack and your dressing.

If your shoulder is immobilized or in a sling, you won’t be able to safely drive a vehicle. You also won’t be able to drive if you’re taking certain pain medications that might make you drowsy or otherwise impair your thinking or reaction time.

You can resume driving after you’ve been approved by your doctor at a follow-up appointment. This may be 1–2 weeks after your surgery, but it could be months depending on your mobility.

As your body recovers, it’s important to make sure you drink plenty of water. You may also want to avoid alcohol, especially if it interferes with your medications.

One common side effect of any type of surgery is constipation. A diet high in whole foods and fiber and low in sodium and dairy may help relieve post-operative constipation.

Immediately after your surgery, your shoulder might need to be immobilized or in a sling. You can expect to do specific rehabilitation stretches and exercises within the first few days and weeks of your recovery.

At your follow-up appointment, your surgeon may approve you for certain types of more vigorous exercises. Make sure to follow your surgeon’s advice regarding motion and exercise.

Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing after your shoulder surgery.

Keep your affected arm supported while dressing and undressing by sitting with your elbow and hand on a table. Use your functioning arm to sleeve your affected arm first. Then sleeve your functioning arm, and lastly put the shirt over your head.

Undress in the reverse order.

Aim to keep your arm supported and stable while sleeping. You might try sleeping in a recliner while wearing a sling. Avoid sleeping directly on your affected shoulder.

Shoulder surgery recovery pillow

A variety of pillows are available to help position your arm safely and comfortably for sleep after shoulder surgery. Ask your doctor whether this might be helpful for your specific situation.

You can expect a rehabilitation regimen after your shoulder surgery that may include physical therapy.

You’ll do stretches and strength exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist to help encourage healing, regain range of motion, and build strength.

You’ll have some indication of how the surgery went before you’re discharged. You’ll likely attend a follow-up appointment 1–2 weeks later, and you can expect to get more detailed information then.

If you have any of the following post-operative side effects, contact your doctor or get other medical attention right away:

  • uncontrolled bleeding
  • excessive swelling or pain
  • fever
  • loss of sensation
  • drainage of fluids

Let’s review some other common questions about shoulder surgery recovery.

How long does pain last after shoulder surgery?

After shoulder surgery, you may have pain from the surgery and pain from the initial injury. Most people report having no pain within 6 weeks to 6 months.

How much time off work will you miss with shoulder surgery?

This will depend on your specific injury, the type of surgery, your overall health, and your profession, especially if you’re expected to carry heavy loads. Expect to give your body at least a few days to a week to recover. Some people might need a month or longer.

How long does it take to recover from shoulder surgery?

A full recovery, including restored range of motion and strength, can take 6 weeks to several months.

You doctor will give you recovery instructions that are specific to your injury and type of surgery.

If your surgery is planned, be sure to ask your questions in advance so you can make necessary preparations.