You had shoulder surgery to repair the tissues inside or around your shoulder joint. The surgeon may have used a tiny camera called an arthroscope to see inside your shoulder.
You may have needed open surgery if your surgeon could not repair your shoulder with the arthroscope. If you had open surgery, you have a large incision (cut).
What to Expect at Home
You will need to wear a sling when you leave the hospital. Some people also wear a shoulder immobilizer. This keeps your shoulder from moving. How long you need to wear the sling or immobilizer will depends on the type of surgery you had.
Wear the sling or immobilizer at all times, unless your doctor says you do not have to.
If you had rotator cuff or other ligament or labral surgery, you need to be careful with your shoulder. Ask your doctor about what arm movements are safe to do.
Your surgeon will refer you to a physical therapist to learn exercises for your shoulder.
Your doctor will give you a prescription for pain medicines. Get it filled when you go home so you have it when you need it. Take your pain medicine when you start having pain so pain does not get too bad.
Narcotic pain medicine (codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone) can make you constipated. If you are taking them, drink plenty of fluids and eat fruits and vegetables and other high-fiber foods to help keep your stools loose.
Do not drink alcohol or drive if you are taking these pain medicines.
Taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or other anti-inflammatory drugs with your prescription pain drugs may help also. Ask your doctor about using them.
Place ice packs on the dressing (bandage) over your wound (incision) 4 - 6 times a day for about 20 minutes each time. Wrap the ice in a clean towel or cloth. Do NOT place it directly on the dressing. Ice will help keep swelling down.
Check your circulation (blood flow) throughout the day. Your fingers should be warm and pink. They should not feel numb or tingly.
Your sutures (stitches) will be removed about 1 week after surgery.
Keep your bandage and your wound clean and dry. Ask your doctor if it is okay to change the dressing. Keeping a gauze pad under your arm may help absorb sweat and keep your underarm skin from getting irritated or sore. Do not place any lotion or ointment on your incision.
Check with your doctor about when you can start taking showers if you have a sling or shoulder immobilizer. Take sponge baths until you can shower. When you do shower:
Place a waterproof bandage or plastic wrap over the wound to keep it dry.
When you can shower without covering the wound, do not scrub it. Gently wash your wound.
Be careful to keep your arm by your side. To clean under this arm, lean to the side, and let it hang down away from your body. Reach under it with your other arm to clean under it. Do not raise it as you clean it.
Do not soak the wound in a bath tub, hot tub, or swimming pool.
You will probably see your doctor every 4 - 6 weeks if you had a complicated shoulder repair surgery.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor or nurse if you have:
Bleeding that soaks through your dressing and does not stop when you place pressure over the area
Pain that does not go away when you take your pain medicine
Swelling in your arm
Numbness or tingling in your fingers or hand
Redness, pain, swelling, or a yellowish discharge from any of the wounds
Temperature higher than 101 °F
Also call the doctor if your hand or fingers are darker in color or feel cool to the touch.
Matsen III FA, Fehringer EV, Lippitt SB, Wirth MA, Rockwood Jr. CA. Rotator cuff. In: Rockwood CA Jr, Matsen FA III, Wirth MA, Lippitt SB, eds. The Shoulder. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 17.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.