Rotator cuff surgery - Help me level-set
November 29, 2020 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to get rotator cuff surgery for my dominant arm. Arthroscopic, outpatient, I'm in reasonably okay shape. I'd love a better sense of how soon I can do the little things - and what my immediate limitations really will be.

I already have a good sense of the things I won't be able to do for a long time (lifting, reaching, anything heavy, walking the dog, getting dressed and undressed easily, sleeping) (ugh). But what about the little stuff? I've been attempting to do everything with my left hand for the last 24 hours just to get a sense of it, and these are the things that seem most crucial for me to be able to do with my dominant hand as soon as possible:

Type on my laptop (with both hands)
Cut food with a knife
Grasp a shampoo bottle (or a tube of toothpaste, or makeup container) with my right hand tightly enough so I can open it / squeeze it / use it with the left.
Run my hand through my hair to distribute shampoo or product (while bending over so I'm only using hand/wrist - I can do this with my elbow locked against my hip, but maybe that's not a good approximation?)
Put in contact lenses
Wash both hands at the sink
Put on a bra by myself
Hold clothing / coats together at the bottom so I can pull up a zipper
Write with a pen

I don't know what sling I'll be in yet, and I don't know how much mobility I'll be allowed from the elbow down, in or out of it. I'm also unable to take more than a couple of days off work (working from home, but a lot of writing on the computer, which I can do left-handed but very slowly and badly). Assume I will be doing regular PT from the first day I'm allowed and will do all the exercises, but what's the soonest I can do the things on that list?

I'll gladly also take any advice or anecdata about the surgery and recovery in general, as well as any encouragement. I'm kind of freaking out.
posted by Mchelly to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
 
Hope this doesn't make you freak out worse, but even though you are scheduled for arthroscopic surgery the doctor may still have to do it the old-fashioned way depending on what they find. This happened to me and it made the recovery slower.

My arm was useless for the first few days but I was able to (awkwardly) do stuff with my left arm. I think within a week I was able to hold and do things with limited range of motion. I started PT about four days after surgery. Things improved rapidly but it was still quite painful. I think my PT lasted about six weeks, three sessions per week at first then later two.
posted by leaper at 10:00 AM on November 29, 2020


Get a cryotherapy unit! It’s a little cooler with a pump and a wrap for your shoulder with tubes going through it. Way more effective than ice packs and really good for pain & inflammation relief.
posted by sixswitch at 12:38 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


I had tenodesis shoulder surgery (reattached my bicep to my upper arm). My right (dominant) arm was dead for 24 hours (very weird feeling. I kept touching it to make sure it was warm). I had a tube top (I am a middle aged curvy woman) to pull up right after surgery and over sized shirts to fit over my sling. Bras were the worst. I bought a few stretchy bandeau type bras that I could pull up one-handed up my body because I'm not comfortable going braless. Going to the bathroom was the worst for me, since using my left hand was so alien (and yes, I also went a few days doing things left handed for that reason).
Once the feeling came back in my arm I found I could write with no issue as long as the paper/checkbook was within reach of my arm while it was in the sling.
I wear glasses; I don't think I could have done contacts.
And typing on the computer was hunt-and-peck, until I was able to comfortably set my right arm in such a way as to be able to use it while it was supported.

Best of luck, and please try not to do too much too soon!
posted by annieb at 3:45 PM on November 29, 2020


I just had arthroscopic shoulder surgery six weeks ago, although in the end it turned out not to be my rotator cuff as was originally thought (instead I had shredded labrum, bursitis, and adhesive capsulitis). So I won't try to address anything specific to rotator cuff surgery. Also it wasn't my dominant arm. My sympathies.

1) Yes, definitely get the cryotherapy machine, my god, it was my best friend for the first few weeks. I would never have been able to sleep without it.
2) Sleeping is still really hard six weeks out. If you have access to and comfort level with CBD/THC products, you may find that they help a lot.
3) A foam wedge was helpful for sleep. I got one for $40 online.
4) I had a nerve block for about the first 18 hours so it was totally dead, then pretty weak for a few days. After that the hand itself came back quickly, but actually raising my hand took a lot longer, and exerting any pressure with it (as in cutting food with a knife) was painful for weeks.
5) I didn't even try to wear a bra. I stepped into tank tops and put a cardigan on over that. And in fact I still can't do a bra normally (although now I'm totally able to hook it in front and turn it around). My PT said that behind-the-back range of motion is the last to come back.
6) Now is the time to buy a bidet!
posted by HotToddy at 4:43 PM on November 29, 2020


A family member swore by sleeping in a recliner (after a different surgery).
posted by oceano at 8:24 PM on November 29, 2020


I don't know how much mobility I'll be allowed from the elbow down, in or out of it

"allowed" will be the least of your troubles. if you grip your shoulder with your opposing hand tightly enough right now and do some experimental wiggling of wrist & forearm, you will feel a lot of tiny little muscle movements invisible to the eye. these will be agony, later. If you undo the lower sling straps so that your elbow is still supported, and move the hand of the affected arm to the keyboard with the other hand, you can type a bit with that hand without moving the arm at all, one or two weeks out. but I don't advise it bc with the best will in the world it is hard to suppress all the instinctive full-arm movements that want to go along with it. plus the angle will be wrong (do the best you can to set up a workstation in advance, but it will still be wrong.)

you will be (should be) putting on bras one-handed or not at all. I found that practice did not help; it is such a ridiculous and aggravating thing to do that you kind of have to be incapable of anything else to make yourself try. stretchy ones with front SNAP OR VELCRO closures will help but even they will not be easy. do not wear anything at all that you don't have to. a very cheap knit dress/caftan, cut completely down one side, with taped-on velcro closures is a good pre-surgery project if you have time for projects.

you don't mention changing bedsheets which makes me think maybe you don't live alone. but in case you do, my brilliant idea which I invented and offer free of charge is: pre-surgery, put every fitted sheet you have on your bed, followed by every flat sheet over that. then, every time you would ordinarily change your sheets, you can just yank the topmost one off, one-armed. if you have enough sheets, you will be set for however many months you need.

if your surgeon is like mine, they tell you not to fall down. you will say Ha ha, mister surgeon, you are a card. of course I will not fall down. then, the day of your first post-op checkup, you will fall down and land on the surgery arm (not, for me, with my full weight or else I would have two surgery experiences to draw from instead of just the one.) I would say "do not do this" but if I wouldn't listen to a surgeon you will not listen to me (or rather, listening doesn't help.) instead, try: do not leave the home while still in a sling if it is raining or snowing. REALLY just don't. even if you don't have to walk down any steps.

they will probably make you take the arm out of the sling and let it hang down while taking a shower right away. like really right away. this is unspeakable. feels like the arm's hanging by a thread and is going to come right off. Even if it doesn't feel that bad, don't try to shampoo your head with that arm no matter what posture you get into. It is not worth it. if you could possibly bend into a position where you weren't moving your shoulder at all, which I question, you would be at greater risk of falling down. wash your head one-handed. for weeks and weeks. [edit: if you have a lot of long hair, consider cutting it all off first, especially if you can't get by without blow-drying.]

I had a very bad time after what was sold to me as a straightforward repair, and am still having a bad time over two years later (but I also have co-existing spine issues; I never heard anybody describe identical agonies.) however, one less dire piece of advice I have is No you don't need any fancy ice machine, not that you should say No to it if you can afford it and if someone else will be dealing with setup for you. but all you need is continuous ice packs. just buy several extras in advance.

taking pain pills before the nerve block wears off to 'get ahead' of the pain seems very silly if you haven't done it before, but you should do it (and you should get a nerve block).

if they tell you they'll call several hours after surgery to check on you TURN. OFF. YOUR. PHONE. or designate someone else to answer. I had the confused idea that I couldn't do this because what if they thought I was dead & sent an ambulance over, so I fell asleep & lurched instinctively for the phone when it rang and woke me up. with, of course, my dominant be-slinged surgery arm. the greatest pain of my life, including the time a week later when I fell half-on it. don't let this happen to you.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:45 AM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


Omg that idea about the bed sheets is pure brilliance. However I am compelled to say that what an ice machine can do that ice packs can't is ice your shoulder on and off all night long while you sleep. They have timers so you can set them to go x minutes on and x minutes off all through the night. Fill it with frozen water bottles. You only have to get up and change the bottles every 12 hours or so.
posted by HotToddy at 8:00 AM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


Consider going to the hospital wearing a tube-top with bare shoulders, keeping it on for the surgery, and keeping it on for a few days after that. It will meet your modesty needs and you won't have to fuss with torso clothing at all for a few days.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:39 PM on November 30, 2020


Thanks everyone - all of these comments were useful, especially the ice machine (and putting frozen water bottles inside was genius!)

Here's my update, in case anyone finds this thread later on..

I had the surgery a week ago, and I can do all the things on the list except hook up my own bra (that looks like it's at least a month away), and I can only cut soft foods with a knife. Most of the other things I could do within 36 hours. Things that have turned out harder than I thought:
Opening my prescription pill bottles (I still need help with a couple of them)
Opening food packaging (like a bag of chips)
Toilet paper -related activities
And getting dressed would really have been difficult without someone to help me.
I'm still not able to sleep very well, in any position.

Thanks again for the advice!
posted by Mchelly at 9:46 AM on December 11, 2020


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