Rotator cuff surgery involves a long recovery process. Trust me… it is a lot longer than you think it will be. Depending on your occupation and the type of work you perform the recovery from rotator cuff surgery may require a lot of time off work to allow your rotator cuff to heal properly. The precise amount of time needed to be off from work after rotator cuff surgery can vary from 3-8 months. If the rotator cuff is not given enough time to heal than the tear might recur.
During the surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear we reattach the rotator cuff tendon to the bone of your humerus. During the healing process the repaired tendon of the rotator cuff is only held in place by a few sutures. These sutures are not strong enough to support everyday use of the shoulder. Most people are not able to return to work immediately after rotator cuff surgery. After nearly 6 weeks the rotator cuff tendon has started to heal and reattach itself to the bone. It’s not a very strong attachment yet, but it is strong enough to allow you to … :
- get dressed
- feed yourself
- type, write and read.
- lift a coffee cup
The repaired rotator cuff continues to become stronger over many months. The strength of the repair will continue to improve for over a year. Your ability to return to work after a rotator cuff repair depends a lot on what type of work you do. If you have a desk job then you are typically able to return to work and use your arm 6- 8 weeks after surgery. If you can work with one arm in a sling then you can return to work sooner.
4 Key Facts About Rotator Cuff Healing
If you work in construction, lawn care, or you are a police officer, corrections officer, active military, etc and rely on your arm for overhead work and heavy lifting then it will take 6-8 months at a minimum for the rotator cuff repair to become strong enough to use the arm without putting the repair at risk.
The risk of returning to full duty work too quickly after a rotator cuff repair is that you can re-tear the rotator cuff. Research shows that the risk of reinjury to your rotator cuff extends out to nearly 24 weeks after your shoulder surgery !!!
Keep in mind… your repair has no nerve fibers in it. So many of you mistakenly think that you might feel the repair stretch or that you will feel pain before it tears again. That is simply not true. Many of you with recurrent tears will not feel the new tear occur.
Stiffness Can Be Protective After Rotator Cuff Surgery
Return to work after rotator cuff surgery
Recovery and return to work after a rotator cuff repair can be a very long process. The ultimate recovery of normal strength can take 6-10 months depending on the size of the tear. Recovery is a long process in order to allow the rotator cuff to heal. If the rotator cuff tendon doesn’t heal well and if you return to work too soon you risk developing another tear. The same goes for returning to a heavy gym workout … you need to wait more than six months before you can return to the gym on your own for a heavy overhead workout. This is one of the reasons that a rotator cuff surgery is very challenging for people. It is a painful surgery that requires a significant commitment to physical therapy and exercise and it has a long recovery.
nate white says
Dr. Luks, I have a “high grade partial thickness tear (70-75%) of the supraspinatus tendon” on my left shoulder as observed by an MRI and communicated by my doctor. I can move my shoulder pretty well (went skiing with my daughter this weekend!) but holding a pushup position and hanging from a pull up bar is nearly impossible. The likely cause is acute (October 2019 softball injury when I dove for a screaming line drive at 3rd base that pulled my shoulder as I dove). However, I’ve had issues with this shoulder before: 8 yrs ago I had a cortisone shot for a similar softball injury, and 1 year ago I fell pretty hard while surfing (indoor mechanical wave surfing) and this left arm and shoulder tired to support me as I fell. Now, 4 months after the most recent injury (softball dive), I still have pain. I had another cortisone shot and have done a little Physical Therapy on it (but not much as it always hurts when I do PT exercises). Is surgery necessary? If so, how soon can I return to work? I’m a HS science teachers. I can set up labs with one hand, besides that I only need to type on the computer. Thanks in advance!
Howard J. Luks, MD says
There are times when a deep partial tear will cause pain that doesn’t improve with time, injections and PT.
That being said… there are other pain generators in the shoulder which may not be obvious on an MRI… the point being, see a shoulder doc for a second opinion before considering a repair.
PASTA repairs are possible for these types of tears… but the recovery can be nearly as long as for full tears.