How Long It Takes to Recover from Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Posted on 
May 29, 2024

You may be considering shoulder replacement surgery if you suffer from life-limiting shoulder pain that doesn’t respond to non-operative treatments. The procedure helps relieve pain, improve function and increase your comfort with daily activities.

While it can significantly enhance your quality of life, you may still have reservations about shoulder replacement and its impact on your lifestyle. Dr. Michael Bender, a shoulder and elbow specialist at Forté, breaks down the three phases of the rehabilitation process so you know what to expect from the recovery timeline.

0-4 Weeks: Protective Phase

For the first four weeks after surgery, you’ll be in the protective phase of rehabilitation. The main goals of this phase are as follows:

  • Wear a sling to allow your soft tissues to heal from the trauma of surgery.
  • Allow early healing of the shoulder joint subscapularis tendon – which is repaired at the end of the surgery.
  • Use passive range of motion to help maintain what you gained during your procedure.

During this phase, physical therapists will guide you through gentle stretching exercises to help prevent stiffness.

“There is often less pain following shoulder replacement than other joint replacements, such as the knee, but functionality is limited,” says Bender. “During the first phase of rehabilitation, you won’t be allowed to lift and raise your arms, but you can use your hands for writing, typing, cutting food and other similar activities.”

Sleep is typically the most challenging part of the protective phase, with side and stomach sleepers often having the hardest time adjusting.

“It’s okay to sleep on your back, so patients often prop themselves up with bed pillows, a wedge pillow or use a recliner,” says Bender. “Prior to surgery, it’s not a bad idea to practice sleeping on your back if you’re not used to doing so.”

1-3 Months: Mobility Phase

From one to three months after surgery, you’ll be in phase two of the rehabilitation process. Your shoulder should be less painful than it was before the procedure, and your focus will be on three main areas:

  • Reaching your full range of motion.
  • Increasing functionality.
  • Participating in light strengthening exercises under the direction of your physical therapist, while not stressing the healing tendon that was repaired.

“You’ll be able to get dressed, raise your arm to reach items and other everyday stuff, but we’re still protecting the repaired tendon,” says Bender. “Once the tendon is fully healed, it’s extremely unlikely that you would have any setbacks. That’s when we can get more aggressive with physical activities.”

3-6 Months: Strengthening Phase

From three to six months post-op, you’ll be in the final phase of your rehabilitation and can focus on increasing the strength of your shoulder.

“The vast majority of patients return to sports and other physical activities somewhere between four and six months,” says Bender. “At this point, the shoulder is typically strong enough to do the things they want, such as golf, pickleball and swimming.”

While some surgeons may restrict physical activity, Bender believes your shoulder will let you know what it can handle.

“We provide general guidance so that patients understand really intense activities or powerlifting could wear out your implants sooner, but these are big picture guidelines and not strict instructions or restrictions that would be the same for all patients,” he says. “The motion, strength and function gained in therapy will help determine what its capable of.”

Setting Realistic Expectations for Your Recovery Timeline

While many patients fully recover from shoulder replacement surgery in four-six months, many factors can affect the recovery timeline, such as:

  • Age
  • Overall health
  • Fitness level
  • How well you adhere to your rehabilitation plan

Still, total shoulder replacement is an effective procedure, with most patients returning pain-free to sports and daily activities.

To schedule a consultation with one of our shoulder replacement physicians, call 317.817.1200.

More resources for you:

  • Check out our guide to understand the different types of shoulder replacement surgery.
  • Find out how shoulder replacement is evolving with better implants and patient-specific surgical planning.
  • Read about the three steps of our pre-operative process.
  • Learn which patients are best suited to reverse shoulder replacement surgery.

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