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A Women’s Guide to Shoulder Surgery

Oct 14, 2014

shoulder injury is often associated with a blow to that area or with a fall with an outstretched arm. While many such injuries, depending on severity, are treated first with physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications, sometimes surgery is needed.

Post-operative care is equally important to recovery as the procedure itself as this ball and socket joint is complex and designed to be fully mobile. The doctor, patient, and her care/rehab team work to restore range of motion and strength in the affected arm. What can a woman expect before and after surgery as she walks through this journey to full joint health?

First of all, depending on the type of shoulder surgery, a woman can expect recovery time to last from 8 weeks to 4 months, with some amount of immobilization in a sling. For instance, arthroscopic acromioplasty requires immobilization of the arm for 2 weeks with gradual weaning from the sling. Rotator cuff or shoulder stabilization surgery results in 4 to 6 weeks with a sling.

Be sure to ask your physician how long you are expected to be without complete movement of the arm being operated on. Do some homework before surgery to understand how activities of daily living must be modified.

For instance, look around the house for two-armed or two-handed tasks; ex: opening jars and getting dressed. Wearing slip on shoes as opposed to shoes that need to be tied will be a big help. It will also be a lot easier to zip a zipper on a pair pants or skirt than buttoning would be. Practice this ahead of time, or simply switch to pull-on garments, including a camisole with a built-in shelf bra. When putting on a shirt, the operated arm must go in first. Again, practice ahead of surgery day.

Second, many shoulder operations are day surgeries and require only regional anesthesia. In other words, a woman will likely go home the day of her procedure, spending the proper time in recovery to assess vitals, affects of anesthesia, ability to urinate, and so on.

On returning home, expect some swelling and pain. Apply an ice bag (or frozen vegetables) to the area as it will reduce swelling. There will be bruising along the shoulder, arm as well as the neck and side. Some minor seepage of blood may occur around the incision, but call the doctor immediately if there is frank bleeding. Low grade fever (under 100) is normal; however, if the fever exceeds 100 degrees, your doctor should be notified.
You want to make sure to keep the area clean and dry, and support the affected arm with a pillow when sitting or sleeping. Unfortunately, showers are off-limits for 3 to 5 days; so stock up on wash cloths and baby wipes to keep fresh and clean. When showers commence, take the sling off, making sure to hold the arm in place across the body.

Third, pain medications and physical therapy are important to full recovery. You will want to properly take your medicines as prescribed and rest as much as possible. Throughout the day, drink lots of fluids and eat as much as your appetite will allow you to. It is a good idea to stock the kitchen pre-surgery with your favorites in order to ease your family and friends with helping prepare meals. .

It should go without saying that you always want to keep to the physical therapy schedule. It will be frequent and staged to pain level and increasing function and range of motion. Lack of PT will likely lead to “frozen shoulder.” This means the muscles and joints in your arm become stiff, causing mobility to be more difficult. Be compliant to avoid this serious issue.

Remember that, in general, women are resilient when it comes to pain and limited function. Most women adapt extremely well when it comes to the recovery process and what needs to be done for a full recovery. With that being said, stick with the shoulder surgery protocol, and you should expect a good outcome.

Contact the Premier Orthopaedic closest to you for more information, or download our free eBook, The Pre-Operative Guide to Shoulder Surgery.