A close friend recently had rotator cuff surgery to repair a large tear, and we did not know what to expect or how to take care of the wounded arm and shoulder after surgery. He thought the post-operative care would be easy and trouble-free, and he thought he would be able to walk out of the hospital without experiencing pain or any other ill effects as he did after having knee surgery. Unlike his experience with knee surgery, he was surprised by the amount of pain he experienced after rotator cuff surgery, and we made sure to receive instructions on how to care for the arm and shoulder after the surgery.
He left the surgical facility wearing sterile bandages covered with clear skin-like tape, and this dressing was and still is completely sealed. He is able to take a shower, and as long as the bandage beneath the waterproof tape does not become wet, the sterile gauze will stay in place until his next appointment with the doctor that preformed the surgery.
He is still recovering from rotator cuff surgery, and he went home with instructions on how to care for his arm and shoulder as well as what to be aware of during the recovery period. Proper wound, arm, and shoulder care is of the utmost importance, and the following information will help you understand what to expect after rotator cuff surgery as well as how to care for the arm, shoulder, and incisions while in recovery.
The following information was provided by my friend’s doctor of orthopedics and sports medicine, and it may or may not apply to your particular condition. Use commonsense, and consult your physician or surgeon for post operative instructions that meet your individual care and recovery requirements after rotator cuff surgery. This information is not meant to replace professional medical advice, and it is simply a personal account of my friend’s experience with rotator cuff surgery and the care instructions provided to him by Great Lakes Orthopedics and Sports Medicine PC.
Wound Care After Rotator Cuff Surgery
The surgical dressing protecting the shoulder wounds is more than likely covered with a waterproof material, but it should remain intact unless otherwise instructed by the physician. It should also remain dry. My friend is able to shower with the dressing in place since it is covered completely by this waterproof material. After a few days, the edges of the tape began to roll up, but I gently and carefully unrolled the damaged area and trimmed away the rolled edges.
It is important to watch the dressing for signs of excess drainage that is beyond normal. In my friend’s case, some blood and drainage was visible beneath the bandage, but it did not spread or saturate the entire bandage or require special care. If the incisions in the shoulder would have continued draining and/or bleeding, he would have contacted the doctor as instructed for additional care.
Is Swelling Normal?
After rotator cuff surgery, slight swelling in the shoulder is considered normal, and the shoulder might also feel warm to the touch. Some people also experience a low-grade fever, and within reason, these occurrences are said to be normal after rotator cuff surgery.
After surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, my friend was instructed to ice his shoulder as tolerated, while keeping the bandaged area dry. The surgical center sent us home with a refillable icepack designed especially for the arm and shoulder. In his case, swelling of the arm, shoulder, or hands was not a problem. However, the ice helped to ease the shoulder and arm pain, and he applied it for about five minutes at a time.
When to Seek Emergency Care
It is important to know when to seek emergency care after having rotator cuff surgery. Call the doctor immediately if the area of rotator cuff surgery becomes excessively swollen, extremely painful, or if a fever greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit develops. As previously mentioned, excessive bleeding and drainage is also cause for concern after rotator cuff surgery.