Returning to Sports After Shoulder Surgery: Here’s What You Need to Know

Shoulder injuries take you out of the game, and surgery may mean an even longer time on the bench. If you try to push your luck and hasten recovery, your risk reinjuring yourself.

Take the right steps to promote healing so you can safely and effectively return to play after shoulder surgery. At The Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, PA, we know you want to get back to your sport as quickly as possible and still perform at a high level.

Recovery time

Shoulder surgery can seriously interfere with play, especially if you depend on the joint to help you swim, swing, or pitch. If you needed Dr. Daniel Fox’s surgical skills to repair your rotator cuff or to resolve chronic shoulder dislocations, how you rehab makes a big difference in how long you need to rest and whether you can plan to participate in the future.

Recovery from shoulder surgery varies, depending on your injury, the surgery performed, and your body’s ability to heal. Most athletes can return to play after 4-6 months of solid recovery time that includes rest, physical therapy, and a gradual progression toward full movement. While you may want the process to go more quickly, allowing for gradual healing and return to play gives you a better outcome. Even if you have little or no pain, it doesn’t always mean you’re ready to return to play.

Immediate recovery period

Following surgery, you wear a sling to immobilize your shoulder joint so the tissues can heal. Once the sutures and bandaging are removed — about one week after surgery — physical therapy typically begins.

You should continue to wear a sling for about four weeks to prevent unintentional movements, as physical therapy focuses on helping you regain range of motion and builds strength in the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. At The Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, PA, we use regenerative medicine, including PRP and other stem cell procedures, to supplement your surgery and help you heal faster.

Return to daily activity

By about week seven post-surgery, you’re ready to do most daily activities. This doesn’t mean  sport play, even if your sport practice was a regular part of your days prior to surgery. It may feel like it’s a been a long time that you’ve been down, but you’re not fully healed and still have major muscle weakness.

Feeling stronger

By week 12 of consistent physical therapy, your affected shoulder is probably feeling pretty good. You should have regained most of your strength in your shoulder and arm to do all normal activities. But the athletic strength that you use in your sport is still lacking, so sports play is not yet recommended.

Throughout your recovery period, get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet so your body has the tools it needs and can focus on repairing damaged tissue. Expect to experience pain and swelling as you rehabilitate. Cold therapy and compression can help relieve it.

Ready to return

You’re ready to return to play when you’re pain-free. Really pain-free and not just pushing through. If you have any swelling around your shoulder joint, it’s an indication that the shoulder is not ready to perform yet.

You should also have about 90% of your strength in the joint back — meaning strength appropriate for play. You can compare movements and strength in your uninjured shoulder to gauge the one that’s healing.

Back on the field

When you and Dr. Fox have determined you can return to play, you need to do so gradually. You may require extra time warming up your shoulders with exercises that move them through the full range of motion before practice or a game.

Keep your play time short at first, and gradually increase your time at the mound, court, or pool over the course of several weeks. Following these workouts, apply ice to keep inflammation down.

Dr. Fox and the team at The Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, PA, help members of the Toms River, New Jersey, community through all stages of shoulder and other orthopedic surgery. Call our office or book online to start your healing process.

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