Rotator cuff tears, whether they’re partial or full-thickness, can be extremely painful. And, even after surgery, the process of recovering from a rotator cuff tear can take 6 months, a year, or even longer.

One of the biggest challenges during the recovery process is following all of your doctor and physical therapist’s instructions. It can take such a long time that many patients begin to ignore the advice of professionals, and believe they have fully recovered – which can lead to re-injury.

In this article, we’ll go over our top tips for managing recovery during the process of rotator cuff physical therapy. Let’s begin.

1. Track Daily Changes In A Journal Or Logbook

This is a powerful psychological tool. Many patients who have an injured rotator cuff feel no sense of progression and recovery – and keeping a journal or logbook helps overcome that.

Write down some basic information about how your shoulder feels each day, as well as any exercises or strengthening techniques you’ve used. As you continue to heal, you’ll be able to get a clear sense of progression – and you’ll realize that you are recovering, despite how slow the process may feel.

2. Follow All Of The Instructions Of Your Doctor And Therapist To The “T”

It’s hard for us to overstate this enough. Never ignore an instruction from your doctor or physical therapist. If they tell you to wear your sling for 6 weeks, you’ll wear it for 6 weeks. If they tell you to stop playing golf, you’ll stop playing golf. If they tell you to stand on your head… you get the picture.

Large rotator cuff surgeries have a 57% failure rate – mostly because patients ignore the advice of their doctors and physical therapists. If you don’t follow instructions, you risk damaging your shoulder again – which is extremely counterproductive and expensive.

3. See If You Can Benefit From Additional Treatments

It’s possible that you may be able to use additional treatments and medications to help speed up your recovery, as ordered by your doctor. These treatments could include: 

Extra physical therapy appointments
Steroid Injections
NSAID anti-inflammatory drugs
And more. While your doctor may not approve additional treatment, it never hurts to ask!

4. Maintain Your Diligence – And Trust The Process

Yes, a full recovery from shoulder surgery can take more than a year, and it’s really difficult to avoid going back to your normal day-to-day life after you feel like you’ve fully recovered.

But be diligent. If your doctor says not to lift your arms over your head, don't do it – even if you think you can. You must stay strong, and be able to overcome the psychological obstacles that often cause rotator cuff re-injury. Your best chance for a full recovery comes by following all of the instructions received by your medical team! 

5. Don’t Rush To Resume Athletic Activities – Even After You Think You’ve Recovered 

If you injured your shoulder while playing hockey, you might be tempted to put on those skates as soon as your doctor clears you to do so – and the same is true of athletes in any other sport. You’ve likely been itching to get back into your athletic hobbies for months, so we understand this impulse.

But don’t rush into things. Take adequate precautions, and understand the reason that you experienced your injury in the first place. If you’re a swimmer, for example, and you had a chronic rotator cuff injury from swimming the front crawl, you may simply have to avoid that stroke in the future.

Follow your doctor’s instructions, ease back into your athletic activities, and understand how to avoid the problem that caused your injury in the first place. If you can do that, you’re ready to get back to your athletic hobbies.

Follow These Tips For A Full Recovery 

Physical therapy for a rotator cuff injury is not easy. But it is well worth it – and if you follow instructions and have patience, you’re sure to make a full recovery.