Post-Operative Patient Information: Shoulder Surgery

You have just undergone shoulder surgery. Pain, swelling and minor bleeding are normal after any operation.

It will take 10-14 days for your skin wound to heal and you will notice that your pain, swelling and bruising will decrease each day after the operation.

Information About Your Care


A specialised, waterproof dressing has been applied to your wound. The area under your dressing is sterile and should not be disturbed before your next follow-up appointment. A water-resistant dressing has been placed over your absorbent dressing. This dressing allows for water “splash” from showering, but it may loosen and be compromised if immersed in water. You should AVOID baths and direct water from showering. After a shower, pat the dressing dry and avoid rubbing it, which may lead to lifting of the dressing edges. Bathing can be difficult after shoulder surgery and if attempted it is easiest with the arm held above the water out of the bath.


Your first follow-up appointment is normally scheduled for 2 weeks with our practice nurse. A second follow- up is normally scheduled for 4-6 weeks later, depending on the surgery that has been performed.


The use of a sling will depend on the surgical procedure you have undergone and the post-operative rehabilitation recommendations. Specific recommendations on the use of your sling are outlined in Dr McLean’s shoulder exercise handout. Dr McLean normally recommends using a sling following a total shoulder replacement and surgery for rotator cuff repair or instability. For most other shoulder surgeries, Dr McLean DOES NOT recommend using a sling, which can potentiate stiffness.

Problems That Should be Reported to My Office

Bleeding through or around your bandage. Dry blood staining of your dressing without blood pooling or lifting of the dressing is normal and expected. If you are unsure, please contact our office in preference to changing your dressing yourself.

Wound: An oozing wound longer than 7 days is unusual, especially if associated with a fever. Pain: Any significant, sudden increase in pain that is out of proportion to your expected recovery.


Some degree of discomfort is normal after surgery, but you should not have to ‘put up’ with pain. You will be given pain-killers and sometimes anti-inflammatories for your pain. Strong pain medications can be tapered over a few weeks. Significant pain normally resolves within 2 weeks. Some pain can last up to 6 weeks and continues to improve each day.

There are several steps you can take to help control (but not eliminate) your pain:

  1. Take your pain medications as prescribed on the bottle. As your pain level improves, decrease the dose, rather than increasing the time between doses. For example, start with 2 tablets and decrease to 1 tablet, then 1⁄2 a tablet every 4 hours as your pain level decreases. This will control your pain better than waiting until your pain is worse before taking the tablet.
  2. At night, consider setting an alarm when you go to bed, so that you take your scheduled dose during the night. This will help control your pain and prevent unexpected early morning wakening as your pain medications wear off.
  3. An ice pack (or ice cubes in a plastic bag), wrapped in a tea towel can be applied to the shoulder for 20 minutes. Do not allow the ice to dampen or wet the dressing. You should AVOID removing the dressing to apply ice directly to the skin. The area under your dressing is sterile and should not be disturbed before your next follow-up appointment. Ice therapy can be discontinued after the first 3 days.
  4. Fluid tends to accumulate in the hands, forearm and elbow in an operated limb. This is a normal response of your body to surgery. Do not be alarmed if your fingers and hand swell. They may also turn purple if fluid and blood accumulate in your soft tissue. To control some of the fluid accumulation, try moving your elbow/wrist/hand at regular time intervals. This often helps the muscles and lymphatic system return excess fluid to your heart. Less swelling is often associated with less “throbbing” pain and can be an effective way of controlling some of your pain.

You may experience side effects from the anaesthetic or pain medications. The most common are nausea and constipation. Over-the-counter medications can minimize these side-effects and are available at your local pharmacy. Ask your pharmacist for help, if you have questions.

More Information

Check out Dr McLean’s articles on shoulder related information and post surgery information.

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