Top 5 Exercises after Shoulder Surgery

Shoulder surgeries like arthroscopies are widely used in the UK to treat a multitude of shoulder injuries. An arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery used to see, diagnose, and treat problems in your shoulder using a small camera to look inside your shoulder joint. There are quite a few shoulder procedures that can be performed arthroscopically. Surgery is only recommended if all other non-invasive treatments fail such as physiotherapy or pain relief injections. Most common arthroscopic procedures include:

  • Subacromial Decompression (removal of some excess bone around the shoulder)
  • Rotator cuff repair
  • Removal or repair of the labarum
  • Repair and stabilisation for recurrent shoulder dislocation/ shoulder instability
  • Shoulder replacement (not performed too frequently in the UK).

Decompression surgery

This is the most common form of shoulder surgery, and it’s by far the most widely performed. When there is excess bone around the small joint in the shoulder called the acromioclavicular joint, then the bursa and rotator cuff tendon can become impinged or can become inflamed from the excess bone. If the inflammation does not reduce, the tendon stays swollen which further exacerbates the problem and may, in some situations, require decompression (removal of the excess bone to allow the tendon to move more freely). Recovery time is about 4-6 months.

Rotator cuff repair

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that connect the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone. A tear in the rotator cuff can happen due to a fall, sports injury, or simply wear and tear over time. Rotator cuff repair surgery involves reattaching the torn tendon to the bone. It can be perform using open surgery, arthroscopy, or a combination of the two. Recovery time is about 9 months.

Recurrent shoulder instability

Shoulder instability surgery is another common procedure. Instability happens when the upper arm bone comes out of socket eighter by repetitive overuse or a traumatic injury. The surgery involves tightening the ligament and tendons that hold the shoulder joint together to prevent future dislocations. Recovery time is about 4-6 months.

Shoulder replacement

Shoulder replacement surgery is performed when the shoulder joint is severely damaged due to arthritis, injury, or other conditions. The damaged joint is replaced with an artificial joint made of metal and plastic components. This surgery can relieve pain and improve mobility.

Regardless of the type of surgery, rehabilitation is essential for a successful outcome. Rehabilitation starts immediately after surgery and can continue for several months. The goals of rehabilitation are to reduce pain, improve range of motion, strengthen the muscles around the shoulder, and restore function. Recovery time is 9-12 months.

In the early stages of rehabilitation, the focus is on controlling pain and swelling. Ice, compression, and elevation can help reduce swelling, and pain medication can be prescribed to manage pain. The shoulder may be immobilised for a period of up to 6 weeks to allow the surgical site to heal. This can be a problem, as the shoulder can become very stiff (known as secondary stiffness) and this can significantly delay the rehabilitation time. This is something we see commonly in the clinic at Surrey Physio.

At Surrey Physio we mostly encounter shoulder decompression surgeries to repair rotator cuff injuries. We are experienced in rehabbing these types of injuries and have a dedicated team of physiotherapist and osteopaths to guide you through the rehabilitation process. As you begin your healing process, we focus on restoring your range of motion and personalising an exercise program designed to stretch the muscles, tendons and strengthening the muscles around your shoulder.

Our goal is to help you to return to your pre-injury level of activity if possible. If you have recently had shoulder surgery and would like guidance, why not book in for an initial appointment to see one of our experienced team members. In the meantime, explore some of our recommended exercises after shoulder surgery.

Before you perform theseexercise, please make sure you pop into see your physio or osteopath for specific guidance. Go gently, and remember, get guidance first before doing these.

1. Passive flexion arm lift lying dowel rod

Use your good arm to lift the dowel rod or stick and hold on to the other end with your bad arm. Make sure your painful arm stays relaxed. Take your arm as high as feels comfortable. Stop when you feel pain, and slowly lower your arm. This exercise will help improve your shoulder mobility. If you don't have a dowel rod, you can use a broom stick or golf club.

Try 12 – 20 reps, three times daily.

2. Passive abduction with dowel rod

Hold a dowel rod in front of you, and use your good arm to assist your painful arm in moving away from your body. Only go as far as feels comfortable, unless your therapist advises you otherwise. This exercise helps improve mobility of the shoulder. If you don't have a dowel rod, you can use a broom stick or golf club.

Try 12 – 20 reps, three times daily.

3. Seated Table Shoulder Slide into Abduction Full

Sit next to a table and rest your forearm on the table. Slide your arm away from you, as you lean in towards the table. Keep your arm in contact with the table. Go as far as feels comfortable. This is a mobilisation exercise for the shoulder.

Try 12 – 20 reps, three times daily.

4. Standing narrow row one handed with band

Stand up straight, with good posture. Secure an exercise band around an object in front of you. Hold the band with one hand and pull your elbow behind your body. At the same time, squeeze your shoulder blade muscles. By performing this exercise, you will strengthen the mid-trapezius, lattissimus dorsi and rhomboid muscles situated next to the shoulder blade, to help posture and shoulder blade stability.

Try 12 – 20 reps, three times daily.

5. Pendulum

Lean over holding on to a chair or table, let your arm hang down by your side, and swing your arm gently in circles. Try to let momentum and gravity move your arm. Go anti-clockwise and clockwise. This exercise is a great way to passively mobilise a stiff shoulder.

Repeat for 1 minute in both directions, five times per day.

Rehabilitation is a critical component of the recovery process after shoulder surgery. It requires commitment and patience from the patient, but it can lead to a successful outcome. Rehabilitation can help restore range of motion, improve strength, and function, and reduce the risk of future injuries. Patients who follow their rehabilitation plan are more likely to have a successful recovery and return to their normal activities.

(Therapists reading this page, these videos are provided by Rehab My Patient – the best exercise prescription software for therapists to prescribe exercises If you are a patient needing advice, call Surrey Physio to book a telephone/video consultation with one of our expert physios or osteopaths, or book in face-to-face for an appointment. You can call us on 0208 685 6930 or book online by clicking the link at the top of the page).