Shoulder Surgery - Post Operative Exercises

Preparing for Post-Operative Recovery

Before undergoing any major surgery, it is well advised to prepare yourself for the journey ahead. Your surgeon will talk you through the procedure, but it is up to you to ensure that you are ready to return home after the surgery.

It is important to have someone drive you home, and possibly stay with you for the first night back, just in case there are any unexpected complications.

You are likely to experience stiffness, bruising, and swelling, so it is best to keep your shoulder as still as possible in the healing process.

The stages of rehabilitation

A full recovery from shoulder surgery may take as long as 6 months, and it is essential that you don’t rush the recovery, give your shoulder adequate opportunity to heal, and not to undertake any exercises without the instruction of your physiotherapist.

  • Don’t get physical too soon.

Start with passive physical therapy. Working with your physio, you can commence your rehab with gentle assisted exercises to regain movement and mobility in the arm.

  • Let physio work for you.

To protect the soft tissue around the shoulder, it is important to work with a physiotherapist during the rehab process. They will keep the shoulder in position, and prevent long term damage.

  • Follow correct exercise regime.

Don’t rush the process, and take your time before conducting any overhead exercises.

  • Be patient.

Once you’ve regained full use of the elbow, you should continue working with your physio to prevent further injuries.


It is best to start all post-operative exercises with the support and guidance of your physical therapist.

The following are effective techniques used to restore your shoulder function.

  • Assisted shoulder elevation

To be performed either lying down or sitting down, assisted shoulder elevation exercises involve the holding of hands above the head, and keeping the elbows as straight as possible. Keep your arms up for 10 – 20 seconds, and then lower them slowly.

This can be repeated 10 – 20 times, and you can increase the elevation of the arms over time, as your pain permits.

Complete exercises three times a day.

  • Rotator Cuff Strength

In a standing position, hold hands behind your back, then stretch them out as much as possible, and lift them up and down to slowly add pressure to your shoulders.

  • Forward elevation

Exercise can be conducted sitting or standing, and involves the clasping of hands, and then lifting arms above the head, whilst keeping the elbows as straight as possible.

Maintain the position for 10-20 seconds, and slowly lower the arms.

  • External rotation
  1. Side-lying external rotation exercise
  2. Seated external rotation exercise
  3. Shoulder external rotation isometric (Static hold)
  4. Standing banded row exercise
  5. Seated Cuban rotation
  6. Standing Cuban rotation
  • Pulley exercises

There are 7 pulley exercises, and they can be performed while seated or standing.

Use your own comfort level as a guide, and hold each stretch for ten seconds

  • Internal rotation

Internal rotation exercises can be performed seated or lying down.

  1. Lie down on a firm surface with your elbows to the side.
  2. Using the hand on the side of the injured shoulder, and using a small weight, bend the arm 90 degrees away from the body.
  3. Hold, and return arm, hold again, and repeat.
  • Posterior capsular stretches

Strengthening exercises with a rubber band.

  • Reaching exercises

In the seated position, move arms forwards, and straighten them as much as you can. Then use one arm at a time, to reach, as if trying to pick up something. Repeat with more pressure, as pain allows.

  • Internal rotation

While lying down on the affected shoulder, you bend your shoulder 90 degrees, and lift a small weight when bringing the arm back to its original position.

Repeat the action, and change sides if you’re able to.

  • Shoulder adduction

Put a small cushion between your arm and chest, and squeeze, and hold for 10 seconds.

Repeat this action for ten times, three times a day.

Here are a few tips to help you recover at home.

  • Talk to your doctor about what pain medication they can recommend.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing.
  • * Set up your bed so that you sleep on the opposite side of the affected shoulder, or sleep on your back. Keep your arm in the sling when sleeping.
  • Have an ice pack on hand to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Make sure your home is set up for your return.
  • Get a shower set-up with a removable shower head. This will help you stay clean, and keep your dressing dry.
  • A pump action soap and shampoo container will make showering easier.
  • Keep an eye out for complications. Contact your doctor if you notice a yellow discharge, experience numbness or tingling, if you are in severe pain, or if you have a high fever.
  • Don’t drive for up to 6 weeks after surgery.


Shoulder Arthroscopy FAQ Post Operative Exercises


For how long should I keep my arm in a sling?

We recommend that you should wear your sling all the time for the first week or two. Then going into the third week, it is up to you, and your own comfort level to decide if you need to wear it anymore.

Depending on the procedure, there are instances where the shoulder should be protected by the sling for up to six weeks.

Do I need to add ice to my shoulder for the swelling?

Depending on the levels of the swelling, your own comfort, and any pain, the use of ice to control the symptoms of the surgery, we would recommend the more the merrier.

Add ice to the affected area for 30 minutes 3 to 5 times as day.

Can I move my shoulder after the surgery?

Yes, but adhere to the instructions given by the Dr James McLean and his team.

Should I stay in bed as much as possible after surgery?

No, keeping as active as possible is better for the recovery, than lying down.

How soon can I drive after surgery?

Driving under the influence of pain medication is not allowed, and it is also not recommended to drive the day following your surgery. Ideally, it is best to only start driving again, once you have regained full use of your shoulder.

Read more about driving after surgery, and flying after surgery.

When can I return to work?

Returning to work is dependent on the type of job you are returning to. For desk-based jobs, you should be able to return to work after about 3-5 days. For labour intensive work, where the shoulder will be used, return time might only be after 4 weeks.

You should discuss expectations with your surgeon before surgery.

 What are the signs something is wrong?

  • If you are concerned that your incision might be infected.
  • Abnormal bleeding, or other wound issues.
  • If the bandage is too tight and affecting circulation.
  • Numbness, or a tingling feeling.

In cases of severe blood loss, a loss of consciousness, or puss coming from the wound, then it is important to call 000 immediately.

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