What To Expect After Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery

by | Mar 14, 2023 | Arthroscopic, Shoulder

Man who's had arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

Your arthroscopic shoulder surgery is done, you’re on the mend, and you can finally see the light at the end of the “shoulder pain” tunnel. Now what? In this article, we’ll explain what to expect after arthroscopic shoulder surgery, including how much time off from work you’ll need, what kind of pain you may experience, and what to do if you think your shoulder surgery has failed.

What is Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery?

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery uses tiny instruments and a miniature camera to assess, diagnose and treat conditions of the shoulder joint. Arthroscopic surgery is preferred over traditional open shoulder surgery because it uses very small incisions to access the interior of the joint, which leads to less pain and a faster recovery time for patients.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is typically used by surgeons to repair torn or damaged rotator cuffs, repair shoulder ligaments, remove damaged or inflamed cartilage, and treat recurring shoulder dislocation.

Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery Procedure

During arthroscopy of the shoulder:

  • You will either be in a “beach chair” position or lying on your side and given anesthesia
  • Your surgical team will use an antiseptic solution to clean your skin, and they may use a holding device to make sure your arm stays still
  • A doctor or nurse may give you an injection of fluid in your shoulder that makes your shoulder joint inflamed so the surgeon can see it better
  • Your surgeon will make a small incision in your shoulder, where a tiny camera, called an arthroscope, is placed
  • A video screen shows what the camera sees, which will be used to make repairs
  • Your surgeon makes more small incisions in your shoulder and inserts small tools in them for the repair
  • When the surgery is done, the incisions are stitched back together and bandages are placed

How Long Does Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery Take?

Shoulder arthroscopy doesn’t require you to stay in the hospital, and most of the time, the whole procedure takes less than an hour. After surgery, you’ll need to rest for an hour or two in the hospital, and then you can head home for recovery.

Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery Pain

Recovering from arthroscopic shoulder surgery starts with managing your pain after you return home from the surgery center. This often happens the same day, as most arthroscopic shoulder surgeries are outpatient procedures. You’ll be sent home from the surgery center with pain medication to take as needed.

If you find that your pain is not well treated with the medication that your surgeon has given you, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for something different. If it’s too strong, ask your doctor if you can take over-the-counter pain medications instead.

Shoulder Surgery Recovery

Your arm will be placed in a sling to keep it immobilized during the healing process, which takes approximately four to six weeks. This can make some daily activities difficult, but you must wear your sling as instructed by your surgeon. Keeping your shoulder immobilized is a key part of making sure you heal correctly and avoid future stiffness, pain, or failed shoulder surgery syndrome.

During the four to six weeks that you are wearing the sling, you’ll likely also be working with a physical therapist, who will have you do different exercises and movements to build strength and flexibility in your arm.

Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery Recovery Time off Work

Wondering how much time off you should take to recover from shoulder surgery? That depends on your job. If you work at a desk or on a computer all day, you may be able to return to work in as little as a few days. If your job requires you to lift heavy things, it could be a few months until you are ready to return to work.

Talk to your surgeon about your particular job and lifestyle, and he or she will be able to give you a much more accurate estimate of the amount of time you need to take off work for shoulder surgery.

What is the Fastest Way to Recover from Shoulder Surgery?

Everyone wants to get back to normal as soon as possible after surgery, but rushing to return to your normal activities is a surefire way to extend your recovery time. The fastest way to recover from shoulder surgery is by taking it easy and following your doctor’s orders. Use these tips to make sure you recover from your shoulder surgery as quickly as possible.

  • Wear your sling – After shoulder surgery, your surgeon will require you to wear a sling to keep your shoulder immobilized as it heals. Don’t be tempted to take your sling off more than necessary. Just like getting better from a cold, your shoulder needs rest to heal faster and more completely
  • Commit to physical therapy Your physical therapist will work with you to keep your shoulder moving, flexible, and healing properly after surgery. Stick with it! These exercises are specifically prescribed to help you heal on a healthy timeline
  • Stop pain medication as soon as you’re able – By all means, take your meds! But as soon as you’re able to wean yourself off of your post-surgery pain medication, do it. It’s important for you to feel the sensation in your shoulder to know if you’re healing correctly. Ongoing pain can be a sign of a hidden problem
  • Avoid certain arm movements – Talk to your surgeon about what movements are more likely to re-injure your healing shoulder. In general, lifting heavy objects, raising your arm over your head, or reaching behind you put too much strain on a healing shoulder
  • Go slowly into your normal routine – It’s tempting to jump right back into your old lifestyle as soon as you start to feel better, but remember, it may take your shoulder months to fully heal. You don’t want to overdo it and end up hurting your delicate shoulder joint all over again

Overdoing it After Shoulder Surgery

If a patient doesn’t do what the surgeon tells them to do after surgery, the results of what would have been a successful surgery could be ruined. Both too much and too little can lead to bad results. Because of this, TOC has physical therapy clinics available to help patients get the best out of their treatments.

Symptoms of Failed Shoulder Surgery

The last thing anyone wants is to undergo surgery and not achieve the results they hoped for. Unfortunately, that sometimes happens. Failed shoulder surgery syndrome is the name for pain, weakness, instability, and stiffness that continues or recurs after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Sometimes the symptoms of failed shoulder appear right away after surgery. Other times, they come on slowly as the shoulder heals. Failed shoulder surgery is usually not caused by a surgeon’s error. Rather, failed shoulder surgery is usually caused by unforeseen complications in the healing process, excess scar tissue, or infection.

If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of failed shoulder surgery such as ongoing pain, stiffness, or weakness, talk to your surgeon. Physical therapy, medication, or revision surgery can help you finally achieve the results you want.

Is Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery Worth It?

The quick answer is yes. When compared to open surgery, arthroscopy often causes less pain and stiffness, fewer complications, a shorter hospital stay (if any), and a faster recovery.

Want to Know More About Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery?

The board-certified shoulder surgeons at Tennessee Orthopaedic Clinics are experts at helping patients regain the use of their shoulders. With clinics all over East Tennessee, including Sevierville, Knoxville, Oak Ridge, and Lenoir City, there’s a TOC clinic near you. Schedule your appointment today.

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