Rotator Cuff Surgery and Recovery



There are many different ways to injure a rotator cuff, a group of tendons and muscles in the shoulder that connect the upper arm and shoulder blade. It can happen fast and furious with a jerk of a dog chain or collision on the ocean floor or it can be long and drawn out through a process of aging and wear and tear. Either way, the injury causes severe pain, limited motion and can prevent even fine-tuned athletes from being able to train or perform.

Unlike the hip socket, which is surrounded by strong muscles and ligaments, the tiny muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff are much more easily injured, especially among swimmers, golfers and tennis players, with significant post-surgery therapy required to fully recover. Here’s some advice from local therapists on how to treat and recover from a rotator cuff injury.

“I see patients within a week to make sure they’re doing the right things, but I like them to rest for the first three weeks following surgery. Rest plays a vital role in recovery. Then we begin passive range of motion, with me moving the arm for them. All structures have to heal for six to eight weeks. We slowly move into the active stuff and once they’ve healed, then they start doing the motions. You have to strengthen the motion of all the muscles.”

-George Wilson

Hamptons Physical Therapy, Sag Harbor


“Some mistakes people make right after surgery is they don’t understand the sling usage — they don’t properly put it on or off. And they’re not compliant with their icing or pain management routine. It’s also really important to see a therapist in the first seven days to minimize complications that can occur after surgery. You can live without surgery with one rotator cuff muscle torn as long as you do consistent strength work on the remaining three muscles. But the second you back away, it will be a problem again. I always try to return people to their previous level of function. “

– Dr. Rachel Lys

East Hampton Physical Therapy, Montauk


“Everybody’s different in the rehab process. People have different pain thresholds so it’s not like a cookbook. For the first couple months you can’t do much, it’s all passive movement. Then you start doing a lot of the rehab. Stretching and getting the range back at first with no bands, then you move to resistant bands or therabands, shoulder extensions and shrugs. There’s also a lot of isometric exercise, which is when you’re contracting the muscle but not lengthening it. You want to contract it to get that blood flowing which is a healing mechanism without risking any damage.”

– Rob Balnis

East End Physical Therapy, East Hampton