What is arthroscopic shoulder surgery recovery like?

Think you’re all prepared for your arthroscopic shoulder surgery? Well, maybe you do know everything you need to know about the day of your surgery, and that’s great! But have you thought about what comes after?
Doctor with patient explaining recovery for arthroscopic surgery recovery blog


Think you’re all prepared for your arthroscopic shoulder surgery? Well, maybe you do know everything you need to know about the day of your surgery, and that’s great! But have you thought about what comes after?

From the moment you wake after surgery until the moment you feel 100 percent like your old self again, you’ll be in the recovery phase. It’s OK if you’re not fully aware of what to expect during this time just yet, but if your surgery is coming up soon, then now is the time to get up to speed so you’re prepared for it. You don’t want to be waking up from surgery and learning for the first time about how your recovery is likely to go.

Immediately Following Surgery

You’ll probably feel a little out of sorts right after surgery. If you feel overly groggy and tired, don’t worry and don’t push it. Just lay back and get some rest, which is what your body will need most anyway. You shouldn’t try to rush out of bed.

The good news is that you shouldn’t be feeling any pain thanks to the medication, but it is possible you’ll feel a bit nauseous from the anesthetic. This isn’t common, but it does happen to some people, so, again, no need to worry if you experience this.

Eventually, you’ll feel well enough to leave, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll be able to immediately maneuver like you could before the surgery. Getting dressed and standing up will be a bit difficult at first, but you still shouldn’t feel any pain, and this will get easier with time. You can eat drink and do most anything else you want as soon as you leave, but you absolutely cannot drive, so you’ll need to get a ride home.

Whatever you do, make sure to take your painkillers before the nerve blockers wear off.

The Next Few Days

At some point later in the day, most likely before you go to bed, the nerve blocker will wear off. It’s right about now that you’ll be thankful you took the painkiller before it did. You will probably feel a lot of sensitivity in your shoulder, but it probably won’t hurt quite as badly as you imagine it will. You’ll have to wear a sling all the time, which makes getting dressed a bit of a hassle.

And because the stitches have to stay dry at all times, you may want to avoid showering and changing your clothes until absolutely necessary. That may sound a little gross and slovenly, but you’ll understand why once you’re trying to change your shirt with a sling on and keep your shoulder dry while showering.

Meanwhile, just continue taking your painkillers even when you don’t feel pain while sitting. In fact, you should never wait until the pain sets in to take them. Keep your dosage going before pain sets in and you’ll be in for a much more pleasant recovery.

Speaking of avoiding pain, if you don’t keep your sling on and set up exactly the way the doctors/nurses tell you to keep it you will be in for a world of hurt. There’s no need to let that happen, though. Keep the sling and al the padding and straps the way they should be and you’ll be fine.

Finally, you’ll probably have an ice machine that fits over your shoulder. You’ll want to ice for one hour followed by an hour without ice for the first two days you’re recovering. Make sure someone can be around to help you with this as it’s pretty tricky to do on your own.


You’ll likely be given some exercises to do at home starting a few days after your surgery. It’s nothing too strenuous, and you’ll want to make sure you do them as they’ll make your shoulder/arm feel better in the long run. Don’t skip these. They get the blood circulating and help your shoulder along the road to recovery.

Changing Your Dressing and Removing Your Stitches

Right around the time you start your exercises, you’ll also have to remove the initial bandaging. It’s best to clean the area with nothing but water or it will sting. You’ll then have to put new bandaging on, but you won’t need nearly as much as you had for the first few days as the bleeding should have stopped by now. The incision area shouldn’t look too gruesome, so if you see what looks like serious bruising or swelling it’s a good idea to call your doctor just to be safe.

One to two weeks later, your stitches will need to come out. Your surgeon or primary care doctor can take care of this for you. He or she will give you all the information you need about dressing your shoulder going forward and getting started on physical therapy, the next leg of your recovery.

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