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Five Post Shoulder Surgery Exercise Tips

Because no two people are alike in terms of degree of injury, recovery and rehab from shoulder surgery is always individualized. Your doctor at Atlantic Orthopedic Specialists lets you know what you can expect in your particular situation. It’s a good idea to find out before the surgery just what your physical limitations will be post-surgery, and for how long, so you can line up any help that’s needed when you come home. For example, if you normally mow your lawn, find a teenager in the neighborhood who wants to earn some money.

Following are five post-surgery tips on exercising.

1. The first two weeks: Put on the brakes

After many types of surgeries, you’re gaining mobility in the affected body part right away by  doing simple exercises. After a hip replacement, you’re up the next day! But shoulder surgery is different. In the first stage of recovery, which can last six weeks or more, your arm is in a sling 24/7. Your doctor instructs you to keep the arm close to your side and in the sling to keep weight off the torn tendons and/or ligaments, which aids in healing.

2. Moderate Cardio

Even though you have your arm in a sling, you don’t have to be a couch potato after shoulder surgery. If you don’t have a stationary bike at home, check with your doctor about going to the gym after the first two weeks. The stationary bike is a great way to get in some cardio after shoulder surgery. You should avoid the elliptical and the treadmill though--it’s too easy to lose your balance on them and fall. You don’t want to ruin your doctor’s handiwork!

Your doctor instructs you to move your hand and elbow a little bit to avoid becoming too stiff. But the sling is there to remind you that you can’t reach out or carry anything with that arm yet.

3. One-Armed Exercise and Physical Conditioning

You can’t wait to get out on the tennis court again, but the old adage, ‘moderation in all things’ applies here. Your doctor informs you regarding when you can begin some physical activity sometime after week two. An important caveat: the injured arm shouldn’t move at all during the activity.

You may be able to do some conditioning exercises, including one-armed exercises using the arm that’s not affected--with your doctor’s ok, of course. Following are some possibilities:

4. Use a guide with pictures showing how to do your exercises

After the initial six-week period, your doctor decides if it’s time for physical therapy to begin. In physical therapy, you move from one exercise to another during the hour. When you get home, you may have trouble remembering exactly how to do an exercise. Your doctor or physical therapist can give you a handout with drawings or photos of the exercises and instructions on how to do them.

With your guide in front of you, you won’t inadvertently make a mistake and hurt yourself. Atlantic Orthopedic Specialists physical therapists are experts in their field and understand the balance between keeping the arm quiet after surgery and permitting some movement to avoid stiffness.  

5. Slow and steady wins the race

Once you’re in physical therapy, you slowly begin to strengthen the muscles in your injured arm after a significant amount of time when you haven’t used it at all. Your arm feels weak, and that’s because it is weak. Your tendons and ligaments are healing; the tendon must reattach to the bone, and that takes time.

Your therapist begins with very gentle exercises which aid the healing process by strengthening blood flow and circulation to the area, encouraging new tissue to grow. For example, one of the first shoulder and arm exercises your doctor likely will have you perform is the gentle circular pendulum. You bend forward 90 degrees at the waist and support your good hand on a table. Then you rock your body to move your arm in a circular pattern clockwise 10 times, then counterclockwise 10 times, keeping your arm relaxed.  

When you begin exercising, make it short and take it slow. Exercise two times a day for only about 10 to 15 minutes when you start. You may begin doing 10 repetitions of a movement, in the beginning, gradually increasing to 20 repetitions in the weeks ahead.  

For expert care of your orthopedic needs, call or book an appointment online with Atlantic Orthopedic Specialists.

Brad Carofino, MD Dr. Brad Carofino is a board-certified (American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery), fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in shoulder & upper extremity surgery. Dr. Carofino is an expert in shoulder replacement surgery, minimally invasive arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, and complex reconstructive procedures of the upper extremity.

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I enjoy sharing this story because it is a testament to patient's who are seeking a solution to shoulder arthritis who want to remain highly active. I am grateful for patients like Fred who give me the opportunity to improve their overall quality of life!