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Common Shoulder Surgeries

Physical Therapy after Shoulder Surgery

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Updated August 27, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you have shoulder pain, you know how this can limit your ability to reach for things. You may be having a difficult time performing basic tasks like bathing, dressing, or combing your hair because of the pain.

You may be referred to physical therapy to help decrease your shoulder pain and improve your range of motion and strength in your arm. Sometimes, the damage to your shoulder is too great, and physical therapy is unsuccessful in restoring normal function to your painful shoulder. You may require shoulder surgery to help return to normal.

After shoulder surgery, you may experience a period of immobilization. Your doctor may have you wear a sling to protect your shoulder as it heals. During this time, the muscles around your shoulder may become weak, and structures near your shoulder may become tight.

Physical therapy may be necessary to return to normal function after shoulder surgery. It is important to know exactly what surgery was performed so that your rehabilitation program is tailored to your exact needs.

Below is a list of common shoulder operations that may require the skilled services of a physical therapist to help rehabilitate. If you have shoulder surgery, be sure to ask your doctor if physical therapy can help you improve the function and mobility of your shoulder and arm once the operation is done.

1. Rotator Cuff Repair

The rotator cuff muscles are a group of four muscles that lie deep in your shoulder and help control the position of your shoulder as you move your arm. Sports injuries, trauma, or simple wear and tear may cause these muscles to fray and tear.

Rotator cuff repairs can be done arthroscopically or via an open procedure. After a rotator cuff repair, physical therapy may be necessary to help improve the range of motion and strength of your shoulder.

2. Labrum Repair

The labrum is a small piece of tissue that courses around the rim of the socket in your shoulder. It can become torn if subjected to trauma like a fall or a sports injury. Tears to the labrum may cause shoulder instability or frequent shoulder dislocations.

Surgery to repair your torn labrum may be necessary to stabilize your shoulder joint. Physical therapy after the surgery may be needed to ensure safe return to normal arm use and mobility.

3. Sub Acromial Decompression

If you are having shoulder impingement symptoms that are not resolving with conservative measures like physical therapy, then you may require a subacromial decompression. This surgery is a procedure that gives extra room to the rotator cuff tendons and the bursa that lies in the shoulder space.

4. Total Shoulder Replacement

If you suffer from arthritis of the shoulder and have failed to improve your arm function with conservative measures like physical therapy, then your surgeon may perform a total shoulder replacement. This surgery requires that the surgeon remove your arthritic shoulder joint and replace it with an artificial one.

The two most common shoulder replacement surgeries are the total shoulder replacement and the reverse total shoulder replacement. Your shoulder physical therapy and rehabilitation will differ significantly depending on which procedure you had done.

5. Fracture Repair

If you have had the unfortunate event of breaking a bone in your shoulder, then your surgeon may have to perform an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) to repair the bone. Commonly, collar bone fractures and proximal humeral fractures require ORIF, and physical therapy may be needed to improve the range of motion and strength around your shoulder after the procedure.

6. Shoulder Manipulation Under Anesthesia

If you have a frozen shoulder that is not responding to aggressive range of motion exercises, then your doctor may perform a manipulation under anesthesia (MUA). Although this is not a true surgical procedure and no cut is made in your body, you will be put under anesthesia for the procedure. Your shoulder will be forcefully brought through its range of motion.

Physical therapy after the MUA procedure is necessary to maintain the range of motion gained by the procedure to help keep your shoulder moving.

7. Biceps Tendon Repair

A biceps tendon rupture often does not limit your functional mobility of your shoulder or arm, but it can make your upper arm look disfigured. Some people want to have the biceps tendon repaired as a result. Physical therapy may be needed after the procedure to ensure return to normal arm use after the surgery.

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