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Recovery from Rotator Cuff Surgery

Rotator cuff repair may be performed as an arthroscopic procedure, a mini-open procedure or an open procedure. Repair typically involves reattaching the torn tendon to the upper arm bone but may involve a tendon transfer in the case of a massive or irreparable tear. Due to the slow healing process and high re-tear rate, and the weak healing ability of the rotator cuff tendons recovery takes time and scar tissue is often generated.  For these reasons, Dr. Masi Reynolds may employ biological treatments such as platelet rich plasma or stem cell therapy during surgery to accelerate and enhance repair and recovery.

Recovery from rotator cuff surgery is a gradual process that can vary in duration and complexity depending on factors like the type of surgery performed, the size and location of the tear, the patient’s age, overall health, and adherence to the rehabilitation program.

Dr. Masi Reynolds will decide when to begin physical therapy and how long a sling will be worn. This depends on many factors including the size of the tear, and the quality of the repaired tendon. Typically, patients begin motion of the elbow, wrist and hand on the same side as surgery immediately after surgery. It is essential for patients to follow Dr. Reynolds’ instructions to increase healing of the repaired tendon. This is a general overview of the recovery process.

Immediate Post-Surgery Period

  • Pain Management: Pain control will likely involve prescription medications, especially in the early stages after surgery.
  • Active and Passive Immobilization: The shoulder may be immobilized with a sling or brace for four to six weeks to allow the repaired tendons to heal.

Early Rehabilitation Phase

Passive exercises being 4-6 weeks after surgery. Passive exercises are where the physical therapist supports your arm and controls movements.

  • Early exercises are designed to prevent stiffness and promote healing.
  • Range of motion exercises help restore flexibility to the shoulder joint but must be done with care to avoid stressing the repaired tendons.
  • Occupational therapists may assist with adapting daily activities to protect the shoulder during the healing process.

Intermediate Rehabilitation Phase

  • After 4-6 weeks, as healing progresses, the focus is on active exercises that you do on your own with guidance from the physical therapist. The goal is to gradually improve strength and arm control.
  • At 8-12 weeks you will begin a strengthening exercise program and continue range of motion exercises at an increased intensity to continue improving flexibility and function.

Late Rehabilitation Phase

Sport-specific or Job-related training for athletes or laborers involves targeted exercises and training to help prepare for a return to sport or work activities.

By 4-6 months many patients have achieved normal full range of motion and strength.  However, complete recovery can take anywhere from four to 12 months depending on the case.

Ongoing Maintenance

  • Continuing with a tailored exercise program can help maintain shoulder health and prevent future problems.
  • Follow-up appointments with Dr. Reynolds or physical therapist may continue for several months to monitor progress.

Adherence to the prescribed physical therapy program and following the surgeon’s guidelines is crucial for a successful recovery. Full recovery of strength or function is not guaranteed, especially in the case of large or complex tears. Talk with Dr. Reynolds about what to expect in your case.

Be aware that there are risks and complications such as infection, nerve damage, stiffness, or re-tearing that can affect recovery timelines. Immediate attention to any unexpected symptoms is vital.

Overall, recovery from rotator cuff surgery is a comprehensive process that requires patience, diligent adherence to rehabilitation protocols, and ongoing communication with Dr. Masi Reynolds. Many patients experience significant improvement in pain and function, but success can depend on various individual factors.

Contact Dr. Masi Reynolds at one of his offices in Santa Cruz, Fremont, Los Gatos and Menlo Park California. Dr. Reynolds is an orthopaedic surgeon with advanced training in sports medicine and specializes in minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery techniques for the knee, shoulder, hip and elbow. He has a special interest in treating the active population including athletes of all ages and at all levels. Call his office at Masi Orthopedics to schedule a consultation today.


  • https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/globalassets/pdfs/rotator-cuff-cpg_pls.pdf
  • Zhang C, Wu J, Li X, Wang Z, Lu WW, Wong TM. Current Biological Strategies to Enhance Surgical Treatment for Rotator Cuff Repair. Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2021 Jun 11;9:657584. doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2021.657584. PMID: 34178957; PMCID: PMC8226184.
  • Grubhofer F, Muniz Martinez AR, Ernstbrunner L, Haberli J, Selig ME, Yi K, Warner JJP. Speed of recovery of the most commonly performed shoulder surgeries. JSES Int. 2021 Apr 21;5(4):776-781. doi: 10.1016/j.jseint.2021.03.007. PMID: 34223429; PMCID: PMC8245973.
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