Shoulder Pain after Surgery

Shoulder Pain after Surgery

At Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy in Bedford, Irving, and Alliance Forth Worth, TX, we see many patients with shoulder pain. With some rest and physical therapy, patients often recover and go back to their normal daily activities. Sometimes, we help patients prepare for shoulder surgery and then assist in the healing process afterward. If you have recently had an operation, you may experience shoulder pain after surgery.

How Do Shoulder Injuries Happen?

Man receiving shoulder pain therapy after surgery

Four muscles form into tendons around each of your shoulder joints. These four muscles make up what is called the “rotator cuff.” A shoulder injury that requires surgery is often, but not always, a tear in one of these tendons. Some tears completely detach the tendon (a complete tear). Incomplete or partial tears leave part of the tendon intact.

If you have a rotator cuff injury, it is probably from long-term repetitive motion. For example, baseball pitchers commonly suffer from shoulder injuries. Overusing your shoulder is the most common cause, but a sudden injury can tear a tendon, too. The chances of hurting your shoulder also increase as you get older – anytime after you turn 40.

The Symptoms of a Shoulder Injury

If you have overused your shoulder over the long term, you will likely feel a dull ache or constant pain. You probably can’t even remember when it started hurting. It may just feel like forever. 

If you have an acute injury to your shoulder, you will remember the instant you hurt it. You may have lifted something heavy or fallen and tried to “catch yourself” by putting out your arm or shoulder. You felt a sharp, quick pain to start, and the pain continues. It may get duller over time but probably never really lets up.

  • Laying Down – No matter how you injured your shoulder, it will likely hurt even more if you lay on that side. Sometimes even laying on the other side hurts as gravity pulls on your arm. If you usually sleep on your side, you may find it difficult to sleep with a shoulder injury.
  • Arm Weakness – You will likely find that your arm just doesn’t have the strength it did before. You may have trouble lifting even small amounts of weight, and activities like opening a jar or typing may worsen the pain.
  • Range of Motion – You will likely find it hard to move your arm in a full range of positions. You may not even be able to put your arm over your head. Plus, it may be difficult to do anything that requires you to rotate or lift that arm.

When You Need Surgery – Options for Shoulder Pain Remedies

Not every shoulder injury needs surgery. Often, doctors and physical therapists begin with more conservative approaches first. With some rest, ice, and physical therapy, most shoulder pain resolves in just a few weeks. Physical therapy at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy can help you regain strength and range of motion. Some patients use anti-inflammatories, or their doctor injects cortisone directly into their injured shoulder.

Yet, these more conservative treatment approaches may only provide temporary relief. If your injury is severe and you are in constant pain, or it doesn’t respond to therapy, it is likely your doctor will recommend surgery. Without the surgery, your pain and weakness could get worse over time.

Shoulder Arthroscopy Surgery – One of the Possible Remedies

Many patients have shoulder arthroscopy surgery to diagnose and treat shoulder injuries. This arthroscopic technique is significantly different from the older style, open surgery.

Instead of a large incision, the surgeon makes several small ½” incisions from different angles to easily reach the site of the injury. Then, the surgeon inserts a tiny camera into an incision to take a look. Then, other surgical tools are inserted into the other incisions.

This safe, modern, less invasive technique can treat torn rotator cuffs, labrum tears, ligament tears, and frequent shoulder dislocations.

Risk of Shoulder Pain After Surgery

There is always a small risk of complications with any surgery. Discuss the complete list of potential complications with your surgeon.

If, after shoulder surgery, you encounter any of these symptoms, discuss them with your physical therapist at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy in Bedford, Irving, Alliance Forth Worth, TX.

  • Shoulder Stiffness – Shoulder stiffness is relatively common after shoulder surgery. About 1 in 5 patients find their shoulder is unpleasantly stiff right after surgery, but it usually resolves within 6 to 12 months. Many patients find this stiffness resolves sooner, and it is less unpleasant in the meantime with a customized physical therapy program.
  • Risk of Retearing – Shoulder surgery is usually exceptionally successful. Still, without follow-up physical therapy, the root cause of the reason for the injury often remains hidden. Your physical therapist at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy in Bedford, Irving, Alliance Forth Worth, TX, will assess your condition and tailor a recovery plan. With that customized physical therapy plan, your risk of reinjury reduces.
  • Slow Improvement – Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is particularly successful, but nothing is perfect. Some patients find that their shoulder does not work any better after surgery than it did beforehand. Some patients are slow to (or never) regain full motion, function, or strength. In these cases, physical therapy is vital to improve the patient’s ability to use their shoulder and get back to normal activities.
  • Nerve Injury – Rarely do patients deal with nerve injury after shoulder surgery. Many major nerves surround the shoulder, making it vital to support the joint for normal function. Physical therapy supports the shoulder joint, even if there was an injury to the nerves during surgery.

Post-operative Remedies for Pain After Shoulder Surgery  

Pain management is a significant concern following any surgery. A nerve block helps with pain on the day of your surgery, but you have to find ways to manage your pain after that. Many patients find that the same sorts of pain remedies work after surgery as beforehand. Pain after shoulder surgery is different from the pain of an injured shoulder, but the remedies work in much the same ways.

1. Apply Ice Packs

Place an ice pack on the painful area of your shoulder for about 20 minutes at a time to help relieve some pain. Be careful not to get the surgery incision wet. A thin towel placed around the ice pack works well to protect your skin and the incision.

The cold numbs the area to reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain – surprisingly well. Ask your surgeon or physical therapist about the best schedule for icing your shoulder. Most suggest a maximum of 20 minutes on, followed by a minimum of 20 minutes off, schedule.

2. Anti-inflammatory and Pain Relief Medications

You may receive a prescription for an anti-inflammatory or a pain reliever. Also, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines help manage pain.

Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking anything for pain. Some could make your incision bleed, and others could interact with your other prescriptions. Always carefully follow the instructions of your doctor, pharmacist, and those on the package.

3. Sleep in a Recliner

Getting enough sleep makes a significant difference to recovery time after surgery. But it can be challenging to sleep lying down after shoulder surgery. You may have found it easier to sleep in a reclining chair before the surgery. Yet, even if not, it is likely to be an excellent solution after your shoulder surgery.

It can take six weeks to sleep in a bed after surgery comfortably, but you may find that propping yourself up with pillows works for you. Carefully prop the injured arm away from your body or try to sleep on your other side.

Physical Therapy at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy in Bedford, Irving, Alliance Forth Worth, TX

Surgeons recommend physical therapy after shoulder surgery, but even if you have no referral, you have direct access. In 2019, the State of Texas passed House Bill 29 (HB29), allowing you to receive physical therapy treatments without a doctor’s referral.

Talk to your physical therapist here at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy about when to start. Usually, patients begin physical therapy within the first 10 days after shoulder surgery.

In the beginning, your physical therapy uses passive motion. This treatment focuses on keeping your shoulder muscles supple as your physical therapist carefully moves your arm for you.

Once your initial healing stage is over, you start to rebuild your flexibility and strength with active motion. Your physical therapist instructs you on specific healing arm movements. Soon, you work to strengthen your shoulder with tailored resistance exercises.

Your physical therapist also gives you daily at-home exercises to do between your regularly scheduled appointments.

The healing process generally takes a few months after surgery, but you should see regular progress.

If you experience some shoulder pain after surgery, it is possible to find relief. Physical therapy can help to speed your recovery and relieve post-surgery pain. Contact us at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy in Bedford, Irving, Alliance Forth Worth, and we’ll help!