How to Prepare for Shoulder Surgery

January 29, 2015
G2 Orthopedics

The shoulder joint: a ball and socket joint full of tissue structures, ligaments, muscles and tendons. It is the most mobile joint in the body; flexible and essential to assist in a wide range of actions of the arms and hands. However, this flexibility also makes the shoulder more prone to injury. If you have injured your shoulder joint and conventional physiotherapy and rest are not healing it, you may need surgery. Before you do so, here are some instructions for how to prepare for shoulder surgery.

Talk with your doctor

Your surgeon will help you understand what to expect before your surgery. This may involve:

  • Familiarizing you with the procedure of arthroscopy. Shoulder arthroscopy involves the surgeon making a small incision in your shoulder and inserting a small camera, called an arthroscope. This allows the surgeon to take a closer look at the condition of your shoulder and determine his/her next action in the surgery.
  • Discuss the types of anesthesia, and the risks and benefits. Regional anesthesia is used to freeze the surgery area only. General anesthesia puts you to sleep so that you feel nothing at all.
  • Discuss your medical history, including types of medications you take and allergies you have, as you may be asked to discontinue certain medications before the surgery.

The day of your surgery

  • You’ll likely be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before surgery.
  • Don’t forget to bring a shirt that buttons up at the front to wear after surgery, as you won’t be able to pull anything over your head.
  • Ensure you have a friend or family member waiting for you to drive you home afterwards.

During Surgery

  • Local or general anaesthetic will be applied.
  • The surgeon will arthroscopically investigate the damage within the joint and determine the surgical needs. This may include:
    Rotator cuff repair, in which tears in the tendons are repaired, and extra bone growth is shaved down.
    – Repairing shoulder instability, in which the rim of the shoulder joint and the tissues that attach to it are restored.
    – Repairing shoulder impingement, in which damaged or inflamed tissue is cleaned out.
  • Once complete, the surgeon will put you into recovery where you will rest until the anaesthetic is out of your system.

Surgical Recovery period

  • Depending on the type and extent of the surgery, recovery can be anywhere from 1 to 6 months. During that time, you should be prepared to exercise very little or no movement of your arm and shoulder that has been worked on.
  • Purchase a sling to use for your arm (or check if the hospital provides you with one).
  • You should also prepare your household so you can take care of your activities of daily living with the hand on the non-surgery side.
  • Consider what you will eat after surgery, as you won’t find it easy to use your arms to cook. Pre made or frozen meals are handy to have ready.
  • Manage your pain. You will be given medication to help with the pain, as well as a cold pack to keep swelling down. Sutures will need to be covered in dressing and kept dry for 3 days following the surgery; after the 4th day, dressing can be removed, and you can shower as usual.

After the surgery, your doctor will request that you come in for several follow up appointments. The first follow-up will be 5-7 days prior to surgery. The doctor will assess the surgical site and remove the sutures. Subsequent follow up visits will be for physiotherapy recommendations, and will continue for up to 6 months.

Returning to work and recreation after shoulder surgery is variable, depending on the type of activity and job. Sedentary jobs can usually be returned to within 2 weeks of the surgery. Light physical work can usually be done after 6 weeks, and heavier lifting will take up to 6 months.