Recovering from Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery - What to Expect

First, what is arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a procedure that orthopaedic surgeons use to inspect, diagnose, and repair problems inside a joint.  During shoulder arthroscopy, your surgeon inserts a small camera, called an arthroscope, into your shoulder joint. The camera displays pictures on a television screen, and your surgeon uses these images to guide small surgical instruments.  Because the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, your surgeon can use much small incisions than with traditional, open surgery. This results in less pain for patients, and shortens the time it takes to recover and return to your favorite activities.  Shoulder arthroscopy has been performed since the 1970s. It has made diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from surgery easier and faster than was once thought possible. It also allows most procedures to be performed on an outpatient basis.  Improvements to shoulder arthroscopy occur every year as new instruments and techniques are developed.

Common arthroscopic procedures include:

  • Rotator cuff repair
  • Bone spur removal
  • Removal or repair of the labrum
  • Repair of ligaments
  • Removal of inflamed tissue or loose cartilage
  • Repair for recurrent shoulder dislocation


Although recovery from arthroscopy is often faster than recovery from open surgery, it may still take weeks or months for your shoulder joint to completely recover.  You can expect some pain and discomfort for at least a week after surgery. If you have had a more extensive surgery, however, it may take several weeks or months before your pain completely subsides.  Ice will help relieve pain and swelling. Your doctor will typically prescribe pain medicine.  Although it does not affect how your shoulder heals, lying flat may cause discomfort. Some patients are more comfortable sleeping in a reclining chair or propped up in bed during the first days after surgery.  A few days after surgery, you should be able to replace your large bandage with simple Band-Aids. You may shower once your wounds are no longer draining, but try not to soak or scrub your incisions.  You will most likely need a sling or special immobilizer to protect your shoulder. Your surgeon will discuss with you how long the sling will be needed.


Rehabilitation plays an important role in getting you back to your daily activities. An exercise program will help you regain shoulder motion and strength. Your surgeon will develop a rehabilitation plan based on the surgical procedures you required.  Your surgeon will typically recommend a physical therapist supervise your exercise program.  It is important that you make a strong effort at rehabilitation in order for your surgery to succeed.

Getting Back to Your Life

Because patients have variable shoulder conditions and overall health status, complete recovery time is different for everyone.  If you have had a removal of bone spurs or inflamed tissue, you may not need a sling and your strength may return after a short period of rehabilitation. You may be able to return to work or school within a few days of your procedure.  It takes longer to recover from more complicated procedures, such as repair of a large rotator cuff tear. Although the incisions are small in arthroscopy, extensive damage within the joint can be repaired with the procedure. Full recovery may take several months. Although it can be a slow process, following your surgeon's guidelines and rehabilitation plan is vital to a successful outcome.

posted 05/01/2017 in Uncategorized

Tags: shoulder, shoulder surgery, arthroscopic, decoons, rehabilitation, what to expect


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