Practical Tips for Recovering from Rotator Cuff Surgery

Although this is a bit off-topic from quilting and sewing, I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of our discoveries in the recovery process (especially since one of my listeners has this surgery coming up!).  My husband (DH for the sake of brevity) had the surgery almost two weeks ago, so he has one more week of immobility left.  He had a 35% tear in his rotator cuff, which is quite large, but the doctor was able to make the repair arthroscopically.   He has 6 small puncture wounds in shoulder, and got the stitches removed from those in his post op visit about 5 days after surgery (by day 4 they were itchy). He has this sling for his recovery.

These tips are not for the mechanics of getting your shoulder working again- spoiler alert! I’m not a doctor – but they might help life run more smoothly afterwards.

Hygiene

Hygiene is by far one of the biggest issues in terms of small annoyances after the surgery. Until his post-op visit to remove his stitches, DH did not take a shower. He sat in the bathtub to wash his bottom half, and washed his face, and largely left his torso unwashed to avoid getting the sling wet. After the stitches were out, we modified some old canvas belts (it took two to get the right length) for him to use as a sling in the shower.

Without the ability to lift one of his arms, he’s not able to clean under his good arm, so I lend a helping hand to clean that armpit. If he’s feeling adventurous, I’ll try to slide the washcloth under the recovering arm too, but it is rather painful still. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, and that ain’t nothing compared to what I put him through during childbirth!

He wasn’t able to use his regular solid deodorant (without me helping), so we bought a can of spray deodorant. Not our favorite environmental impact to make, but this one time it helps him feel more independent. I will use it to spray a shot under the recovering arm as well.

Just to add insult to literal injury, we’ve found that a week and a half after surgery, his sling is starting to stink. While he has it off to take a shower, I blast it with Lysol and Febreze and that’s helped.

Clothing

Although the recommendation was for a button down shirt during this time of immobility,  he was only able to button one or two buttons around the sling so his stomach ended up hanging out.  To solve this problem, we took an old t-shirt of his and cut it all the way up the side and under the sleeve for the arm the sling is on. This meant he could put the t-shirt on normally on his left arm and over his head, and the right sleeve could be tucked (gingerly) around his arm inside the sling.  The sides of the shirt were then tucked between the foam pad on the slide and the side of his body to prevent them from gaping too much.

With only one hand, he had difficulty with his regular khakis so he’s worn sweatpants with an elasticized waist, or his pajama pants while we wash his sweatpants.  We’ve got a total of two modified t-shirts and two pairs of sweatpants.

He also wasn’t able to wear a normal jacket, so we modified an old zip-up vest. The problem was the gaping of fabric from t-shirt on the side, so for the vest I cut open the shoulder seam and sewed on velcro. This way he can put his left arm through the vest like normal and slide the open shoulder on the right side up under the sling. Then he zips it closed like normal, and then closes the velcro over the right shoulder so he’s got some article of clothing covering every part of his torso.

Sleep

DH has switched back and forth on a couple sleeping positions. The first few weeks of immobility he needs to sleep sitting up. He tried just sleeping in the recliner in the living room, but had better success the first few days by piling up 3 pillows on the arm of the recliner on his left side (the good side), and face planting on them so his recovering arm was hanging in the sling. Something about having it hanging made it not tense up so much and was less painful.

Since those first days, he’s stuck with either laying back in the recliner, or laying somewhat on his good side in the couch. In either case he’s still semi-upright, but the quality and duration of sleep is aggravating.

What to Have Ready After the Surgery

  • Waterproof bandages (for an arthroscopic surgery)
  • Ice packs – we made these of equal parts rubbing alcohol, water, and crushed ice in a ziploc.
  • Spray deodorant
  • Modified shirts
  • Elastic waist pants
  • Lysol or Febreze to de-funk the sling
  • Stool softener, aka Colace, if you are taking narcotic. NOTE: this is NOT the same as taking fiber caplets; extra fiber will only compound the problem.
  • Old belt(s) or fabric to use as temporary sling in the shower- test out the length BEFORE the surgery (which is something we didn’t do).
  • A spare empty cup in the car for the ride home from surgery. DH’s was done as outpatient surgery, and he was still feeling nauseous from the anesthetic on the drive home. He didn’t actually barf, but it was comforting to have it just in case.

About Pam the Head Rhombus

I like quilts, cats, math, and science fiction. Not always in that order.
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10 Responses to Practical Tips for Recovering from Rotator Cuff Surgery

  1. z any mouse says:

    thanks for all the tips. sorry for the poor punctuation, surgery was yesterday. i had a sizeable tear as well, and had to have the big girl surgery with the longest recovery. thanks to your earlier podcast i altered a few shirts by cutting them up the side and adding some velcro closures. i also made a couple shower sings out of some old valances i had thrown in the goodwill pile. tomorrow is shower day and i cannot wait [pretend those are shouty caps]. my boys had long grown out of that rainbow fabric anyway. had to go back to the doctor today to get my sling adjusted and stronger meds [rough night]. i’ll be sending my husband out for spray deoderant and soft stools, lol. and whoever invented netflix has my undying gratitude.

  2. Patti N says:

    I’m going August 1 for mine and I am pretty nervous about afterwards with bathroom and washing hair, etc…..

    • Mary says:

      Pulling on pants and underware is difficult. You want loose pants. My cousin lost one arm in Iraq and showed me how to pull the crotch of my panties to one side just as I sat on the toilet. You can actually handle all three female functions down there and the panties slide back into position when you stand back up. I’m still using this method with two good hands as it saves me 20 or 30 seconds pulling down and then pulling back up every time I use the toilet.

  3. Stephen Wilson says:

    PAM & HEAD

    Thank you for the tips! My shoulder surgery (hemi-athroscopy) isn’t until the middle of November. I’m embarrassed to say I know very little about it, but I’m collecting a list of questions for our local VA hospital.

    Again, thanks!

    Stephen
    Western North Carolina

  4. Peggy Coffey says:

    I came across your website while looking for suggestions for rotator cuff recovery. My surgery is at the end of the month but I’m trying to get as much ready as possible. Your suggestions are great and I will add them to my list. I am terrified and this lets me think that I am at least a little in control, and it keeps my mind occupied. Thanks so much.

  5. B says:

    Had surgery oct 30th. Sub abcromial decompression… 2 full thickness tears sewn back together. 3 arthroscopic incisions… And a 3″ incision along the top of my shoulder. Got out of hospital on Halloween looking like ” Frakenshoulder” lol. First few days brutal. Having sling issues. I fear it’s not giving the support its supposed to. Don’t see surgeon for 2 weeks. Any suggestions would be appreciated!!!!

  6. Dawn Davis says:

    This was all very helpful. My husband is on day 4 and I feel so helpless. He’s so uncomfortable and tired. We will try the 3 pillow trick tonight.

  7. Bob says:

    Two weeks out from major shoulder repair. Nerve block helped out for about three days, then stayed on pain meds, don’t be shy with them, they help with sleep and that is the key to recovery. Recliner for about 10 days and then “the bed”!!!!! Off heavy pain meds and just OTC relief. Also as noted earlier staying in the sling is golden!!!

  8. Kimberly says:

    Thank you all for the tips and support you have offered in embarking on this rather scary, unknown territory. My husband has just past the four-week mark into his recovery of rotator cuff and bicep reattachment surgery and I want to pay it forward with some tips of my own. The first two nights were awful because neither of slept for more than an hour at a time; we were exhausted! No rest, no recovery. We do not have a recliner but do have an oversize chair with an ottoman, it was okay, not great. On day three I pulled the 6″, dense foam mattress that we use on the lower bunk of our grand kids trundle bed, put that on the guest bed, supported by other pillows, at a 45 degree angle and it worked great! Sleep, blissful sleep at last!

    Following the suggestion to use a couple of belts to create a ‘shower sling’, I used a fabric bathrobe tie – measured on my husband prior to his surgery – and knotted it to fit his bent arm for use in the shower. Worked fine along with an empty, plastic two liter pop bottle placed under his arm to support it at the right angle.

    To provide coverage and comfort in dressing, I cut an old T-shirt from the bottom up thru the armpit, cut off the sleeve, then stitched about 10″ of Velcro made for fabric use to each side of the cut shirt. I made three of these so he could have one on him, one in the hamper, and one clean.

    We followed the suggestion to keep on schedule with taking the pain meds and it works. You do not want the pain to become excruciating, so keep a log of what you have taken and when as it can become overwhelming to keep it all straight!

    As I work full-time and could not be home other than the first couple of days to help my husband, I made a different breakfast casserole each weekend that he could single-handedly cut and reheat in the microwave. This gave him something filling and more hearty to eat than cold cereal or a sandwich (and made me feel better about it too!).

    Four weeks later, we can both say in hindsight, we expected the worst and all-in-all, it wasn’t that bad. Go easy on yourselves and remember your first concern needs to be taking care of the patient and the caregiver!

    Good health!

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