For those of you who are contemplating having rotator cuff surgery, or have had it and are in some stage of recovery, there are three stages of this process that you will have to deal with. I have learned this through my own experience, and I believe it would be good to know, up front, what you are facing.
The first is the initial surgery. This, I believe, is the easiest part. You will go in for your surgery. They will put you under with anesthesia Then, they will send you home with a pain block, and a prescription for strong pain medication. The pain block will last approximately 12 hours, and then you will need to take the oral pain medication to relieve your pain.
The next process you will have to deal with is your therapy. After six weeks in your sling, your arm will look like you’ve been in a prisoner-of-war camp. Your therapist will first work on getting your range of motion back through movements which he will perform. These are VERY PAINFUL, and you will need to take pain medication before your therapy to deal with the pain. You will progress through these PROM (passive range of motion) exercises into AROM (active range of motion exercises), which you will perform yourself at the therapy center, and then at home each day you are not there. From the AROM exercises, you will progress to strengthening exercises, which will begin to redevelop your muscles which have atrophied due to being immobilized in your sling.
The final challenge for you is weaning yourself off your pain medication. Nobody is going to do this for you. Many good people have become prescription drug addicts because of the use of pain medication after a surgical procedure. These people never intended to overuse their medication. But, because there are not a lot of warnings given by your caregivers, and because of a lack of sufficient guidance given in the use of the strong and addictive narcotics that are given to alleviate post surgical pain, people wind up addicted, to some degree, to their pain medication.
I received some very good advice, early on, from a physical therapist who attends our church. I asked him how to avoid addiction to the drugs. He told me that the only time you take the meds is FOR PAIN. Under no circumstances, take them for any other reason. If you do not stick to this advice, you may find that you have another terrible problem to deal with, which could be worse than your initial torn rotator cuff. I cannot stress this enough, BE VERY CAREFUL WITH THE NARCOTICS that are given for pain. They are for pain only. I personally do not think sufficient attention is given to advising patients in regard to the serious matter of using pain meds.
I have been on this journey now for over 4 months, and I can tell you from experience that your body will begin to crave these drugs. Your body will also signal to you that you need to get off the pills ASAP.
You will experience serious constipation, unless you are real fastidious about making sure you eat a lot of fiber. Your body will wake you up in the middle of the night and remind you that it’s time for more pills. You will start to “look forward” to that effect which you get when taking your pain pill. You will want to feel that good all the time. The only problem is that the longer you take these pills, the more your body will tell you that it needs more of them to give you that nice peaceful feeling. When you start thinking like that, WATCH OUT! These are the early signs of drug addition.
I tell you all these things to SCARE you into realizing the seriousness of using pain medication. These things are very necessary at first, especially with rotator cuff surgery. It is a very painful process that takes months – as many as FOUR to SIX months before your pain begins to taper off.
I am, at present, weaning myself off these pills. At first, they were a wonderful thing to get me through a lot of pain, but now it’s time to get off them. From this time forward, I will do my best to use ice and over-the-counter pain relievers to deal with my pain. I will experience some withdrawal which will involve feeling rotten, and losing sleep. But, in a week or so, I will be normal again. The sooner you get off the pain meds, the better you will be!
Now, for some of you who have a high threshold for pain, you may only have to deal with two stages of rotator cuff surgery recovery – your surgery, and the therapy that will follow. But, for others like me, the third stage is definitely something you need to be aware of.
One reason why I started my blog was that I wasn’t getting a lot of details about what was involved with rotator cuff surgery from the doctors. I had questions, and lots of them, but they didn’t have a lot of time to talk about the “details” when I would come in for presurgery consultation. Hopefully, for some of you out there contemplating having this, or those in the middle of your recovery, you can benefit from some of my experiences.