Things you can expect after surgery

As I travel down the road of my journey through rotator cuff surgery, I’m going to endeavor to chronicle what you may expect if you decide to go forward with your surgery. I intend to add things to this list as I discover them through my experience. Here are some things you will probably have to deal with.

  • Pain– No surprise here. The first week after surgery, you will have strong to moderate pain, especially at night. The pain medication helps a lot to relieve this (I am on day 16 today and still have some pain). You’ll also have pain if you bump your shoulder or inadvertently try to catch a falling object or trip and try to catch your balance by throwing your arm up (Ouch!). I know both of those by experience. Guard your shoulder when you’re out and about. I was told by a therapist, whom I consulted before my surgery, that the real pain is when you start your therapy. My doctor’s clinical assistant also told me that I would probably need my pain medication for when I start my therapy. I’ll let you know more on this when I start therapy in October.
  • Boredom – If you are an active person, and especially if your surgery was on your dominant side (for me, my right side), you’re going to have a problem with boredom. Most everything I used to do is off-limits for me. I am getting caught up on my reading and taking a lot of walks. This is one of the toughest parts for me.
  • Withdrawal – If you don’t get off the strong pain medication soon enough (I was taking Percocet), you will experience withdrawal or downright addiction. I was only taking it for a couple weeks, and that wasn’t even regularly, and I experienced withdrawal symptoms. You definitely don’t want to be taking this stuff just to sleep good at night. It will make you sleep like a baby, but it will also wrap itself around you like a serpent. Be very careful with this.
  • Sleep problems– I’m at day 16, and I’m still having problems getting a good night’s sleep (which, at 2:50 AM, is why I’m writing on this blog), waking up repeatedly throughout the course of the night. A combination of factors contribute to this. One is the pain, the other is my body crying out for the pain medication, which it likes a lot. I could cave in and take one tablet, and then I could sleep  for a while, but I am very concerned about the addiction problem, so I try to only take the meds when it is just intolerable.
  • Weight Loss – When I went in for my surgery, I was fit and trim, so it’s not because I needed to lose some weight. I actually thought I’d be putting weight on and instead, I’m losing it. In fact, I weigh less right now than I’ve weighed in decades.
      The reason for the weight loss is that now I can’t play tennis and do hard manual labor which keeps my muscles toned. Now, the right side of my body is wasting away because of inactivity (atrophy). Until I begin my therapy in 2 weeks, I’m probably going to lose even more weight.
    So, as they say on TV, “your results may vary,” but if you’re anything like me, you can expect to lose weight and not gain it. As I write this, I am at 3.5 weeks since my surgery.
  • A long road to recovery – Here is a quote from a physical therapist who goes to my church:

    “This can be a rather long and arduous road, but just be patient and stay the course.”

He is referring to my rotator cuff surgery recovery. Notice the word, arduous. I wasn’t exactly sure what my friend meant by that, so I looked it up. Here’s the definition:

“hard to accomplish or achieve, difficult, marked by great labor or effort, strenuous, hard” – Merriam Webster Dictionary

As I add this one to my list here, I am 5 weeks into my therapy (11/6/12). My therapist has told me that I can expect to be in therapy for, at least, 2 more months. If you are considering having this surgery, be prepared for the long haul.

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9 Responses to Things you can expect after surgery

  1. Kelly says:

    Taking walks with Mom is one of the toughest parts for you!!! Is she really that boring??!! :):) OK, just kidding. Glad that you are recovering well, even though it is a slow road.

  2. tina leas says:

    I had surgery 2/20/13 on my dominant shoulder. Dr said to expect to be off work about 2-4 weeks. At the time, he thought I had a small tear. Got in there and found a massive tear, messed up biceps tendon, bone spurs and “junk” to clean up. About 3 weeks into recovery our 40 pound dog leaped directly onto my operated shoulder. Instead of going to doc and back to work at the beginning of April I see him on the 29th. He will then evaluate my progress and decide if i can 1. Finally get out of the immobilizer sling. 2.drive 3. Go back to work.
    I am going absolutely stir crazy! Even walking causes residual pain. ADHD and doing nothing are not a good combo!

  3. Tom says:

    Tina,
    If you had a large tear, you can expect it to be a lot harder than your doc had suggested initially. It sounds like your experience is a lot like mine. I cringed when I read about your dog leaping on your shoulder. It is a long road to recovery, but you will get there.

    There isn’t anything you can do to hasten your recovery, but there are things, like your dog jumping on you, that will prolong it. I’m 7.5 months out from my surgery, and I still have a hard time putting a coat on, unless I start with my unaffected arm first in the sleeve.

    Once you start your PT, you’ll have a better idea as to when you can get back to work. I found the therapy to be very exhausting in the beginning.

    As for boredom, that is a huge problem. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and did a lot of reading. My wife was also very helpful driving me around and taking walks with me. Like you, I had pain when I took walks (unless I took pain meds beforehand).

    Hang in there though. You’ll get through it. The therapy is very important. Make sure you religiously submit to all they tell you to do.

    I am now playing tennis again and doing most everything I was doing before surgery. I still have pain at night – especially if I have been using my shoulder a lot (like after tennis).

    Thanks for sharing your experience here. Hopefully, you can find some helpful insights here from my blog. God bless!

  4. tina leas says:

    I started physical therapy about 3 weeks ago. My doc has a very conservative protocol when there is as much damage as I had. Which I understand but by golly its making me stir crazy! The only thing I need to be able to do to go back to work is drive. I work with kids with mental health issues and my office is 30 minutes away. We visit families and kids in homes and schools. While i can get a ride to work,i cant have someone drive me around. I miss those kids!

    • Tom says:

      My therapy was pretty aggressive. Before I began my actual therapy, my therapist sat down with me and drew up a list of “goals.” The goals were things that I wanted to be able to do after surgery. I told him that I wanted to do everything that I was doing before – tennis, climbing ladders, lifting heavy objects, etc. Because I wanted to do all of these things, he had me doing a lot of exercises that others with RC surgery did not have to do. My formal therapy lasted 5 months before I was released.

  5. tina leas says:

    Oh and the dog, Roxie thinks if i am sitting or laying on the couch, she needs to be with me. She had not been allowed close. To me since surgery but my husband stepped out of the room for a moment and my d was across the room so she jumped.

  6. tina leas says:

    Oh yeah. My daughter was horrified and i think my husband was ready to take me straight to the ER. I intend to do everything I did before and more. The doc said he was not sure how I had as much function as I did before surgery.I have restricted my pain med to bed time but have been having more pain the last week or so. My pt said that I should think about calling doc for meds. I think I will be doing that Monday.

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