You had shoulder surgery to repair the tissues inside or around your shoulder joint. The surgeon may have used a tiny camera called an arthroscope to see inside your shoulder.
You may have needed open surgery if your surgeon could not repair your shoulder with the arthroscope. If you had open surgery, you have a large cut (incision).
Now that you're going home, be sure to follow your surgeon's instructions on how to take care of your shoulder. Use the information below as a reminder.
When You're in the Hospital
While in the hospital, you should have received pain medicine. You also learned how to manage swelling around your shoulder joint.
Your surgeon or physical therapist may have taught you exercises to do at home.
What to Expect at Home
You will need to wear a sling when you leave the hospital. You may also need to wear a shoulder immobilizer. This keeps your shoulder from moving. Wear the sling or immobilizer at all times, unless your surgeon says you do not have to.
If you had rotator cuff or other ligament or labral surgery, you need to be careful with your shoulder. Follow instructions on what arm movements are safe. You will be immobilized with the sling, but you can come out of the sling for your exercises if your surgeon says it is OK to do so.
Consider making some changes around your home so it is easier for you to take care of yourself.
Keep doing the exercises you were taught for as long as you were told. This helps strengthen the muscles that support your shoulder and ensures it heals well.
You may not be able to drive for a few weeks. Your surgeon or physical therapist will tell you when it is OK.
Ask your surgeon about which sports and other activities are OK for you after you recover.
Your surgeon will give you a prescription for pain medicines. Get it filled when you go home so you have it when you need it. Take the pain medicine when you start having pain so it doesn't get too bad.
Narcotic pain medicine (codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone) can make you constipated. If you are taking them, drink plenty of fluids and eat fruits and vegetables and other high-fiber foods to help keep your stools loose.
Do not drink alcohol or drive if you are taking these pain medicines.
Taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or other anti-inflammatory medicines with your prescription pain medicine may help also. Ask your doctor about using them. Follow instructions exactly on how to take your medicines.
Place ice packs on the dressing (bandage) over your wound (incision) 4 to 6 times a day for about 20 minutes each time. Wrap the ice packs in a clean towel or cloth. Do not place it directly on the dressing. Ice helps keep swelling down.
Your sutures (stitches) will be removed about 1 to 2 weeks after surgery.
Keep your bandage and your wound clean and dry. Ask your surgeon if it is OK to change the dressing. Keeping a gauze pad under your arm may help absorb sweat and keep your underarm skin from getting irritated or sore. Do not place any lotion or ointment on your incision.
Check with your surgeon about when you can start taking showers if you have a sling or shoulder immobilizer. Take sponge baths until you can shower. When you do shower:
- Place a waterproof bandage or plastic wrap over the wound to keep it dry.
- When you can shower without covering the wound, do not scrub it. Gently wash your wound.
- Be careful to keep your arm by your side. To clean under this arm, lean to the front, and let it hang down away from your body. Reach under it with your other arm to clean under it. Do not raise your arm up as you clean it.
- Do not soak the wound in a bath tub, hot tub, or swimming pool until your surgeon says it is OK.
You will probably see the surgeon every 4 to 6 weeks until you are recovered.
When to Call the Doctor
Contact the surgeon or nurse if you have any of the following:
- Bleeding that soaks through your dressing and does not stop when you place pressure over the area
- Pain that does not go away when you take your pain medicine
- Swelling in your arm
- Numbness or tingling in your fingers or hand
- Your hand or fingers are darker in color or feel cool to the touch
- Redness, pain, swelling, or a yellowish discharge from any of the wounds
- Temperature higher than 101°F (38.3°C)
SLAP repair - discharge; Acromioplasty - discharge; Bankart repair - discharge; Shoulder repair - discharge; Shoulder arthroscopy - discharge
Chan WW, Namdari S, Leggin BG, et al. Surgical and postoperative management of shoulder arthritis. In: Skirven TM, Osterman AL, Fedorczyk JM, Amadio PC, Feldscher SB, Shin EK, eds. Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 89.
Edwards TB, Morris BJ. Rehabilitation after shoulder arthroplasty. In: Edwards TB, Morris BJ, eds. Shoulder Arthroplasty. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 43.
Garrigues GE, Friedman LGM. Rehabilitation after rotator cuff repair. In: Matsen FA, Cordasco FA, Sperling JW, et al, eds. Rockwood and Matsen's The Shoulder. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 55.
Throckmorton TW. Shoulder and elbow arthroplasty. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 12.
Review Date 12/12/2022
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.