Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ

Question:

I had rotator cuff surgery four weeks ago. I've been faithfully wearing the abduction pillow under my arm. But my wife signed us up for an East Coast swing dance class. I can't really partner with her with this pillow strapped to my side. Since it's been four weeks, is it safe to take the sling off for that one-hour class each week?

Answer:

Healing after surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear can be very slow. Most likely the surgeon has reattached the torn and retracted tendon back to the bone. The patient must protect the repair site for at least 12 weeks. The special splint you are wearing is called an abduction pillow brace. The device fits under the arm. It is designed to place the shoulder in a protective position that avoids strain on the healing rotator cuff. If more than one part of the rotator cuff is damaged, then more protection and a longer recovery period are allowed. The speed of rehab and type of movements you can do depend on whether the torn tendon is in the anterior (front of the) rotator cuff, the posterior (back of the) rotator cuff, or in both. This information is used to restrict or encourage direction and degree of shoulder range-of-motion and strengthening. Patients with traumatic (as opposed to wear and tear or degenerative) injuries tend to develop more stiffness postoperatively if they aren't treated more aggressively right from the start. Early repairs after the injury can be moved through therapy more rapidly. But patients with fair-to-poor quality of tissue require a slower, more cautious approach. Other factors that must be taken into consideration include which arm was affected (dominant versus nondominant), general health, and smoking history. People in poor health with other health problems and smokers (or tobacco users) have an increased risk of complications, poor wound healing, and reinjury. So before taking the splint off for anything more than bathing, you must consult with your surgeon. There are just too many variables to consider to make this decision on your own. After all the time and expense of the surgery, you don't want to do anything that could compromise the integrity of that repair site. Neil S. Ghodadra, MD, et al. Open, Mini-open, and All-Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair Surgery: Indications and Implications for Rehabilitation. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. February 2009. Vol. 39. No. 1. Pp. 81-89; A1-A6.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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