What You Can Expect in Physical Therapy Following A Shoulder Surgery?


Shoulder surgery can be many things: removal of bone spurs, a labral tear, tendon repair, a fracture following a fall, a rotator cuff repair or a myriad of other issues. While your surgeon will dictate the specifics of what you can and can’t do based on your specific surgical procedure, you will likely see a therapist to aid in your recovery.

Here are some things you can expect from your time in therapy:

Types of Protocols

Depending on the extent and specific type of surgery, you may or may not be expected to avoid certain movements. This can range from no restrictions at all to no overhead movement and gentle stretching. Protocols can be a simple do’s and don’ts discussion with your surgeon. And sometimes they can be a more extensive plan that limits activity until certain milestones are reached. Expect your physical therapist to review these and discuss any limitations you may have. This may mean relying on family or friends to help with tasks like driving or modification of activities. For example, sticking with button-up shirts until you can raise your arms overhead.

The Range Before Strength

Typically you can expect a focus on the range of motion before you begin any significant strengthening at physical therapy. It would not do you any good to be able to carry a 50-pound load if you can’t run a comb through your hair or place a can on a shelf. Not to say strengthening would not be performed, typically while in physical therapy you will be strengthening the supporting tissues such as your grip, elbow strength, ability to position your shoulders or even neck strengthening while progressing your range of motion.

Strength To Function

As a patient’s protocol allows and functional range returns, strengthening will begin. Typically strengthening is a mix of resistance and stability training. This can mean general strengthening you see performed at a gym, such as pushing and pulling tasks. These tasks will eventually be converted into functional tasks such as changing a lightbulb and pushing yourself out of a chair.

Return To The Sport

The last stage of physical therapy is the return to the sport or activity. Dynamic shoulder tasks such as throwing, boxing, dealing with unexpected forces like walking your dog or catching a ball come last. As you work with your physical therapist they will keep your end of treatment goals in mind. Goals like returning to riding a motorcycle may be more important and different for you then returning to climbing for another patient. That is where patient-specific treatment comes in. Your therapist will work to return you to that final level you are reaching towards and progress you to that return. Every shoulder is different, every surgery is different, and every therapy treatment plan for your shoulder is different. It is our job as therapists to work toward your goals and get you back to what you enjoy.

Shoulder surgery can be many things and your surgeon will dictate the large strokes. A patient can have short bouts of care with minimal restriction to longer more intense therapy. It can range widely but I hope this helps to give you an idea of what therapy may entail.

For more information about shoulder surgery aftercare follow up with a Foothills Sports Medicine physical therapist near you!


Max Mangabat

PT, DPT Sun City Clinic