How Much Shoulder Surgery Recovery Time Is Needed?

A doctor checking how is the patient's shoulder healing after surgery.

Deciding to have shoulder surgery to repair an orthopedic condition is a big decision. Orthopedic surgery is usually elective, but it can have a major impact on your quality of life. One of the factors you should consider when planning for shoulder surgery is how much recovery and downtime will be needed. Here are some factors that can impact how much shoulder surgery recovery time is needed before you can return to work or normal activities.

Recovery Time from Common Shoulder Surgeries

The shoulder is a complex joint that allows the arm to swing 360 degrees. To repair bone, tendon, ligament or cartilage through surgery impacts the entire joint. This means limiting not only the shoulder movement during recovery, but also the attached arm and hand. Most shoulder surgeries will require about six weeks in a sling to immobilize the shoulder and arm to allow healing, but the total recovery time can be longer, depending on the type of shoulder surgery. Some of the common shoulder surgeries include:

  • Rotator cuff repair – open and arthroscopic
  • AC joint repair
  • Shoulder impingement
  • SLAP repair
  • Frozen shoulder surgery
  • Bicep tendon surgery
  • Dislocation and fractures
  • Shoulder replacement surgery

The amount of shoulder surgery recovery time depends on many factors. A minimally-invasive surgery to remove a bone spur will heal much quicker than repairing a fracture or replacing the entire shoulder joint. It also depends on whether the surgery is performed with an open incision or arthroscopic methods. Open incision typically requires a longer initial recovery time than arthroscopic shoulder surgery, or arthroscopy.

Stages of Shoulder Surgery Recovery

Shoulder surgery recovery is completed in stages. Immediately after surgery, most patients will be in a sling or cast to immobilize the shoulder and arm. For some simple surgeries like frozen shoulder surgery, this may only be for a few days – for others, this could be for 4-6 weeks. This is the first stage of recovery before you begin rehabilitation or physical therapy to regain strength and range of motion.

Once the shoulder is healed enough to begin rehabilitation or PT, strengthening exercises and stretches begin. This can be the longest process of recovery for more complex shoulder surgeries. While frozen shoulder surgery patients can begin PT within a few days of their surgery, other surgeries may require 4-6 weeks of healing before beginning the rehabilitation process. Complex shoulder surgeries like AC joint stabilization or shoulder replacement surgery may need six months or longer of rehabilitation before they can return to work or resume all normal activities.
How Soon Can I Return to Work After Shoulder Surgery?
One of the most common questions patients ask about shoulder surgery is how soon they can return to work or normal activities. This depends not only on the type of shoulder surgery, but the type of work or activity. Most people will need to be able to use their arm, hand and shoulder to some extent to return to work. Those who work in an office environment with little to no lifting required can return much quicker than those who perform manual labor or need to lift, pull or carry items using their arms and shoulder.

Most patients undergoing shoulder surgery will be off work for 4-6 weeks or longer, depending on the surgery and type of work they perform. Open shoulder surgeries can require longer recovery times than shoulder arthroscopy due to larger incisions and increased tissue damage. For arthroscopic shoulder surgery recovery time, off work periods may be as little as 2-3 weeks for those who have desk jobs with limited arm movement needed. For those who perform manual labor, it can be 4-6 months or longer of off-work time and recovery before returning to work, even with shoulder arthroscopic surgery.
shoulder joint

Planning for Shoulder Surgery Recovery

When choosing to undergo shoulder surgery, it is important to understand the risks and recovery time that will be needed. Your orthopedic surgeon will go over the typical outcomes and what can be expected after surgery. Each patient, surgery and situation are different, and it can be difficult to know exactly how much recovery time and time off work will be needed beforehand. Following the post-operative instructions to the letter can help hasten recovery time and get you back to work or performing normal activities faster.

If you are considering shoulder surgery, recovery time can vary depending on many factors. In general, many patients can return to work and limited activities 4-6 weeks after their surgery, but this can be longer. Before committing to shoulder surgery, talk to your orthopedic surgeon about the different treatment options and recovery times to ensure you understand how much time you will need to heal and recover after your procedure. In some cases, you can shorten your recovery and off-work time by opting for arthroscopic or minimally-invasive shoulder surgery.