Recovery after Shoulder Surgery- What to Expect

Dr Gavin Nimon – Adelaide based Shoulder Surgeon explains the recover after Shoulder Surgery


As an Adelaide Shoulder Surgeon, I am regularly asked about the recovery processs for Shoulder surgery, particularly the common procedures like arthroscopic rotator cuff repair and open total shoulder replacement. These are significant medical procedures that require a thorough and careful approach to getting the best result.

Understanding the recovery process, including the challenges and milestones, is crucial for patients who undergo these surgeries.

This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive guide to assist those on their journey to full recovery.

At the end, I hope that you will have a better understanding of :-

  • What shoulder surgeries require special attention for recovery
  • What the recovery process involves
  • How you can assist the process

What’s the Shoulder Surgeries require special attention?

Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair

This minimally invasive surgery involves repairing torn tendons in the shoulder’s rotator cuff. It’s typically less painful with a quicker recovery time compared to open surgery, but it still demands careful postoperative management.

Open Total Shoulder Replacement

A total shoulder replacement is a more invasive procedure, replacing the damaged shoulder joint with an artificial one. It’s performed for shoulder arthritis or massive, irreparable rotator cuff tears, or after breaks of the shoulder in an older age.

Understanding the Surgeries
Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair
This minimally invasive surgery involves repairing torn tendons in the shoulder's rotator cuff. It's typically less painful with a quicker recovery time compared to open surgery, but it still demands careful postoperative management.

Open Total Shoulder Replacement
This is a more invasive procedure, replacing the damaged shoulder joint with a prosthetic one. It's often recommended for severe shoulder arthritis or massive, irreparable rotator cuff tears.

Arthroscopic surgery involves keryhole incisions whilst open shoulder replacement is a larger scar, but the recovery can be similar.


recoverriong after shoulder surgery
  • Immediate post-operatively

Prior to Discharge from Hospital

  • Every surgeon has a different regime but Dr Gavin Nimon will see his patients and change the dressings personally to a waterproof dressing allow showering .
  • You will be encouraged to wear a loose fitting short sleeve shirt ( and for ladies to wear their bra as normal)
  • The physiotherapist will fit a sling as demonstrated, but also give a more basic version to wear in the shower.

  • The sling will be worn all the time except when exercising and should be worn over the top of clothing as demonstrated.

Early Recovery Phase (2-6 Weeks)

Physical Therapy will be required

  • The aim is to begin gentle physical therapy exercises to improve mobility. This phase focuses on maintaining movements of the elbow, hand and wrist, so that they do not become stiff (particulartly the elbow which is prone to stiffness after shoulder surgery). The shoulder exercises will typically be pendular exercises allowing gravity to assist the arm swinging, with only minimal shoulder motion. ( this is done with the body leaning forward and either cupping the forearm with the other hand or allowing the arm to hang, and performing circular motion with the whole upper limb). Dr Nimon insistes that a physiotherapist will demonstrate this to you, prior to discharge from hospital.

Sling Usage

  • For rotator cuff repair, a sling might be required for 4-6 weeks.
  • For shoulder replacements, sling use is 4 weeks during the day and 6 weeks at night. This allows the tendon, released for exposure to the shoulder,  to heal back after being  reattached to the bone, at the end of the procedure.

Mid Recovery Phase (6-12 Weeks)

Range of  Motion Exercises

  • Gradually increase exercises to increase the shoulder motion.
  • Pulleys may be used (placed over the top of a door) so as to help pull the arm up or the physiotherapist may suggest the use of broomsticks, or hydrotherapy are used to increase movement.

Daily Activities

  • You may start resuming some daily activities, but heavy lifting and strenuous tasks are still off-limits.

Late Recovery Phase (3-6 Months)

Full Range of Motion

  • Aim to regain full range of motion. This is often achievable by 3 months post-surgery.
  • Strengthenning is commenced, utilising theraband, as demonstrated by the photo of the man at the top of the blog post.

Return to Normal Activities

  • Most patients can return to their regular activities, including sports, with their doctor’s approval.

Driving after surgery

Driving after surgery

  1. Unfortunately whilst in a sling you are not safe to drive
  2. You should not drive until once the sling is removed, and you have recovered good shoulder motion and strength, which may take several weeks.
  3. This link will explin the reasoning

Do’s and Don’ts During Recovery


  1. Follow Your Physical Therapy Regimen: Adhering to your physiotherapy schedule is crucial for a successful recovery.
  2. Attend Regular Follow-Up Appointments: Your surgeon will monitor your progress and adjust your treatment plan as needed.
  3. Stay Active Within Limits: Gentle walks and light activities can promote healing.


  1. Don’t Rush the Process: Avoid overexertion, which can lead to setbacks.
  2. Avoid Certain Movements: Be cautious with movements that strain the shoulder, like reaching behind or lifting heavy objects.
  3. Don’t Ignore Pain: If you experience increased pain, consult your doctor.

Coping with Challenges

Pain after surgery

Emotional and Mental Health

  • It’s normal to feel frustrated or down during recovery. Stay connected with friends and family, and consider counseling if needed.

Managing Expectations

  • Understand that full recovery can take up to a year. Be patient and celebrate small victories.

Tips for a Successful Recovery

  1. Nutrition: Eat a balanced diet rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals to aid tissue healing.
  2. Smoking: Smoking is harmful for tissue healing, and can increase the risk of infection and should be avoided.
  3. Hydration: Keep yourself well-hydrated.
  4. Rest: Ensure you get enough sleep as it plays a critical role in healing.


Recovering from shoulder surgery, whether it’s an arthroscopic rotator cuff repair or an open total shoulder replacement, is a journey that requires patience, perseverance, and adherence to medical advice. By understanding the recovery process and actively participating in your rehabilitation, you can work towards regaining strength, mobility, and returning to your daily activities. Always remember, each person’s recovery journey is unique, and it’s essential to listen to your body and consult with your healthcare providers throughout the process.

Dr Gavin Nimon is a locally trained Adelaide based shoulder surgeon who is well experienced in such procedures and will guide you through the process carefully.

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