Rotator Cuff Repair Recovery

Surgery is an effective way of treating rotator cuff injuries. In this article, we will discuss the process of rotator cuff repair surgery, including how the procedure is performed, and what to expect during recovery.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a rotator cuff injury or have been advised to undergo rotator cuff repair surgery, consider scheduling an appointment with Benjamin W. Szerlip, DO, a fellowship-trained shoulder and sports medicine surgeon based in Austin, Texas. Dr. Szerlip’s expertise in shoulder surgery and dedication to patient care ensures that you receive personalized treatment tailored to your needs.

About Rotator Cuff Repair

Rotator cuff repair surgery is used to treat tears in the rotator cuff tendons. Rotator cuff tears can either be partial or complete.

A partial tear may only need a procedure called debridement. This is when the surgeon trims or smooths the damage. A bioinductive patch can also be placed on a partial thickness tear. A full thickness tear will require that the surgeon stitch the tendon back to its original site on the upper arm bone (humerus).

How is Rotator Cuff Repair Performed?

Rotator cuff surgery is usually performed arthroscopically. Arthroscopic tendon repair is a minimally invasive procedure that only requires small incisions. Through these small incisions, your surgeon will insert a tube with a camera and specialized instruments to perform the procedure. Arthroscopic repair results in minimal trauma to the surrounding muscles and tissues.

The surgical procedure is usually done using a nerve block. The block numbs the arm which decreases pain in the post-operative period as well as the amount of pain medication the week after surgery..

Your surgeon will begin by looking at the glenohumeral joint, the shoulder joint that functions like a ball and socket. They will check for damage to other structures within your shoulder, such as loose bodies, a torn labrum, or a biceps tendon injury. At this time, a partial rotator cuff tear can be trimmed with a shaver.

Your surgeon will then look into the subacromial space. This is an area below the acromion, the bony tip of the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff passes through this space. Sometimes the tendon can tear because of bone spurs or irregularities on the acromion, repeatedly irritating the rotator cuff tendon. These bone spurs and any other irregularities are removed in a procedure called acromioplasty or a distal clavicle resection.

The torn tendon is then reattached to the bone using suture anchors and sutures.

Recovery After Rotator Cuff Repair

You can expect to feel some shoulder pain after surgery. This is part of the healing process. In addition to the nerve block, medicines to help reduce pain include opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and local anesthetics. You should strictly follow your doctor’s guidance over the use of opioids as they are highly addictive.

Rehabilitation is a very important part of recovery. You will need to take part in a physical therapy program to help restore shoulder strength and range of motion. The rehab protocol for rotator cuff repairs can be found at

After surgery, your shoulder should be immobilized in a sling for about 2-4 weeks, depending on the severity of the tear. This will allow time for the repaired tendon to heal without putting it under increased tension. Patients can move their hands down at waist level (texting, typing at a computer, etc.) the day after surgery. 

A physical therapist will see you within 1-2 weeks after surgery and help you with passive exercises. They will support your arm and move it in different positions. This will help you to restore motion in the shoulder.

After 2-4 weeks, you will start an active range of motion in the shoulder. These are movements without the help of your physical therapist. These movements will help you to improve your strength and muscle control. Then, around 8 to 12 weeks, you will begin a strength training program.

How Long Does Recovery Take?

The length of your recovery will depend on the size of the tear. The full recovery period is defined as full activities (sports, hobbies) without restriction and may be as follows:

  • A small tear can take 2-4 months
  • A large tear can take 4-6 months
  • A massive tear can take 6-12 months

You can expect to wait about 8 weeks before returning to most activities. However, you may need to wait until 4-6 months to participate in intense sports.

Schedule an Appointment Today

To learn more about rotator cuff repair surgery or to schedule a consultation with Benjamin W. Szerlip, DO, contact our practice in Austin, Texas today! Dr. Szerlip’s expertise in shoulder surgery and dedication to patient care make him the ideal choice for personalized treatment tailored to your needs.


Medically reviewed by Benjamin W. Szerlip DO