You tore the rotator cuff in your shoulder and are scheduled for arthroscopic surgery in the outpatient clinic. While the surgery won't take long and you'll be home the same day, gaining full use of your shoulder will take several weeks. Here is what you can expect during the time you spend at home recovering from this shoulder injury.

The First Few Days After Surgery

Your doctor will send you home with your arm in a special sling. This holds your arm against your body and your shoulder in a neutral position while it heals. You'll wear this sling constantly for a few weeks, only taking it off to bathe. You'll be shown exercises to keep your hand, wrist and elbow limber, but you won't be able to use your arm for daily tasks.

The ligaments in your shoulder have a limited blood supply, which slows down healing. While the ligaments are healing, there is a risk of re-injuring your shoulder should you overwork it. You'll have a follow up appointment with the surgeon a few days after you get home. If they are satisfied with your healing progress, they will start you on the next phase of recovery - physical therapy.

Range of Motion Therapy

The first phase of physical therapy will focus on getting the muscles and ligaments in your shoulder limber and able to move in their normal range of motion. Your shoulder will initially feel stiff because of swelling and lack of use. The physical therapist will do this phase in two parts:

Passive physical therapy - The therapist will move your arm and shoulder for you through its range of motion. They will slowly stretch out the unused muscles to their normal length. They will also show you exercises that you can do to move your affected arm with your healthy arm through the motions. You will keep your arm in the sling when not in physical therapy.

Active physical therapy - The therapist will now have you move the affected arm through its range of motion using its own muscles. You will start very slowly with this phase as the muscles in the affected arm will be weak from lack of use. The therapist will measure the amount of motion you have gained at each session. You'll also be able to remove your arm from the sling between sessions to do light daily activities. When you have achieved nearly normal range of motion, you'll begin strengthening the muscles in your shoulder.

Muscle Strengthening Therapy

Once your shoulder has regained its normal range of motion, it's time to strengthen the muscles in your arm and shoulder. Strong shoulder muscles not only help you move your shoulder, but they help prevent injury to the shoulder.

The therapist will have you work with resistance machines to build up the muscles. You will also have exercises to do at home. It is important that you stick with the pace of progress established by your physical therapist. Even at this stage, if you overwork your shoulder, you can injure it and set back your recovery.

As your shoulder becomes stronger, you'll spend more time out of the arm sling and be able to use your arm more in daily activities. Contact a physical therapist to learn more about what they can do to assist you in your recovery.