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Recovery & Support for Torn Rotator Cuff

NYU Langone sports medicine specialists use pain management and physical and occupational therapy to help you recover from torn rotator cuff surgery.

Full recovery from surgery can take four to six months. At an appointment about a week or two after surgery, your doctor checks how your incisions from arthroscopy or open surgery are healing, removes your sutures, and assesses the range of motion in your shoulder. You may also wear a sling for up to six weeks to help support the joint. If your doctor believes that the recovery is not progressing normally after surgery, an imaging test such as an ultrasound or MRI may be taken to see how the rotator cuff muscles and tendons are healing.

Your doctor also oversees pain management and regularly communicates with your physical and occupational therapists to see how your shoulder strength and mobility are progressing.

If you had reverse total shoulder replacement surgery, your surgeon may schedule annual appointments to monitor the implanted joint. Many prosthetic joints last for years without wearing out or causing complications. However, if a prosthetic joint becomes unstable, you may explore options to repair or replace aging parts with your surgeon.

Pain Management

Our doctors and pain management specialists use a variety of approaches to ensure you remain comfortable after surgery for a torn rotator cuff. Managing your pain helps to ensure that you can move your shoulder, which prevents stiffness and helps with your recovery.

A nerve block, an anesthetic delivered to area nerves through an injection that you may receive before your torn rotator cuff surgery, provides pain relief well into the day after the procedure and can help to reduce or eliminate the need for opioids, which are strong prescription medications. Our doctors may prescribe acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, which are also available over the counter.

Applying ice, known as cryotherapy, for one to two weeks after surgery also helps to manage pain and inflammation. Your doctor may recommend applying ice packs for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, 3 to 4 times a day, or using a cold therapy machine, which automatically cools your injury over a 24-hour period.

Physical or Occupational Therapy

Your physical or occupational therapist at NYU Langone Orthopedic Center is an integral part of the recovery process from torn rotator cuff surgery. You can expect to participate in a personalized outpatient rehabilitation program for about four to six months.

Your therapist takes into account the severity of the injury, the extent of the surgery, and your particular range of motion. For less severe tears, physical therapy may start one to two weeks after surgery, while rehabilitation for more severe tears may begin about six weeks after.

Typically, your therapist first uses passive motion exercise to move the shoulder for you, which enhances range of motion, prevents stiffness, and reduces pain, especially if you have a more severe tear. Several weeks later, exercises to strengthen the shoulders, arms, and back are introduced. Improving the strength and flexibility of these muscles provides your shoulder with long-term support and stability.

Your therapist is also available to show you how to safely perform the activities you need for daily living, such as driving and grocery shopping, and to advise you about returning to work, especially if you have a job that involves physical labor.

If you are an athlete, your doctor may also refer you to NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center, where specialists can assess and refine your movements to help protect your shoulder from future injury.

Our Research and Education in Torn Rotator Cuff

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.