Weight lifting advice for patients that have had shoulder surgery

After patients recover from shoulder surgery they often ask about returning to a workout regimen that involves weight lifting. Strength training is a great form of exercise for staying fit and preserving bone density, but if you have had a prior shoulder operation it is important that you avoid certain types of exercises.  First, there are a few ground rules. You should not resume weight lifting until cleared by your doctor to do so. For rotator cuff repair patients this is often 4-6 months after surgery. Second, you should ask you doctor if you have any restrictions or recommended limitations. For instance, patients that have had a shoulder replacement are generally advised to avoid heavy lifting and should not lift more than 40lbs with the surgical arm. If you have gotten the “green light” to hit the gym here are a few pointers to prevent re-injury.

  1. Keep it light: When working your shoulder or chest try to stick to lower weights and higher repetitions. I typically recommend that patients choose a weight that they could do twenty repetitions of with good form.
  2. Avoid raises: Forward raises and lateral raises are dumbbell exercises for the deltoid muscle. These movements put a tremendous amount to torque on the shoulder and should be avoided if you have had surgery
  3. Work your back: One of the best ways to protect your shoulder is by having a strong upper back. I recommend rowing exercises and pull downs to achieve this. These muscles help to hold the shoulder blades back in proper position and alleviate pressure from the rotator cuff.
  4. Keep you rotator cuff muscles in shape: During your post operative rehab you probably learned some rotator cuff exercises that involved resistance bands. I recommend that patients continue to lightly work their rotator cuff 2-3 times per week. Brice Snyder ATC has previously provided a video of these exercises. https://drcarofino.com/throwers-ten-shoulder-program-video/
  5. If it hurts don’t do it: It is normal to have a muscle soreness after exercise, however any movements that cause sharp pain should be avoided.
Author
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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