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.
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.
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.