Tips After Shoulder Surgery

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If you find yourself facing shoulder surgery, don’t let yourself get scared by all the doom and gloom articles and posts online. I’m here to tell you that it ain’t that bad.

Even the pain was minimal; I wouldn’t even call it pain. For me, it was more discomfort than anything else. I will qualify that statement by stating that I likely have a high threshold for pain, so my experience may not be your experience, and yes, I took my pain pills every six hours.

In fact, I kept a list of when I took my pills as I found my cognitive abilities were slightly impaired from all the meds. This way I didn’t have to rely on my memory. I’m now coming off the pain pills; I take one at bedtime.

Personally, I wouldn’t bother getting the nerve block. I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t go through that trauma. I told the nurses while in recovery that my pain level, on a scale from 1-10, was an 8. My neck and shoulder felt very tight. They gave me more dilaudid and morphine… and then more again…. I left the hospital feeling no pain at all.

I’m not sure that’s usual—I can only tell you about my personal experience. Again, your experience and your physical condition may be quite different from my own. The nurse had told me that their goal was to get the pain down to a level 4 or less.

It’s important to move your arm in passive motions, meaning you let gravity do the work for you, so you don’t end up with a frozen shoulder. But I have discovered that I could do a bit more with my right hand than originally anticipated. I can move my elbow more now than I could two weeks ago, too.

I think the biggest pain in the neck is sleeping. Since you have to sleep sitting up, I advise using a recliner, or barring that, using a husband pillow and fluffy pillows to sit up in bed. And ice!

Icing twenty minutes on/off will help bring down the swelling, which helps control discomfort.

Showering is a big pain. Take a nice long shower the morning of your surgery because you sure won’t feel like taking one for days. Washing your hair is a bit difficult, too, so be prepared for that.

Eating using only my left hand was pretty funny. My sister had to cut up my food the first couple of days, and I found eating with a spoon was easier than using a fork. But two weeks after surgery, eating isn’t quite so difficult. Keep in mind that most difficulties are fairly transitory.

Clothing worked out more easily than I thought. I recommend that women get a couple of tops or a caftan with kimono sleeves; they work out great! I have a tunic with kimono sleeves, so it was perfect paired with leggings. And my sister gave me a shawl for Christmas, which helps keep me nice and cozy.

Finding a bra I could wear was something I desperately worried about prior to surgery. Believe me, the first few days after surgery you’ll be glad to just put on the damn caftan cuz you ain’t going nowhere.

Soon, however, I found I could fasten my bra in front and slowly turn it around. Then I put on my left shoulder strap but left the right strap down so there wouldn’t be any pressure on the surgical site. Besides, there was no way I could get my right arm through the strap. Luckily, no one could tell I was only wearing one strap.

Men can wear buttoned-down shirts, but you’ll have this thick padding over the surgical site for a week, which means shirts won’t fit. If you have a loose, stretchy  t-shirt with a wide neck, you should be able to put that on.

If you live alone, try to stay with family or friends until you go to your follow-up appointment. My follow-up was eleven days after surgery, but it can be up to two weeks. And you’ll need someone to cook for you. Later, you’ll be able to do some minor cooking, but only one-handed.

Stock up on food, frozen meals and fruits/vegetables, coffe, tea, toiletries, and other miscellaneous items. Spray antiperspirant works more easily than roll-on. I bought a kitchen brush so I could wash dishes. Buy flushable wipes. You’ll need them.

Move important items to the middle of cupboards for easy access. And if you live in a complex that has dumpsters with lids on them, ask someone to throw away your trash for you. You sure won’t be able to do it yourself.

Additionally, constipation is invariably an issue with surgery due to the anesthesia and the pain meds. Eat lots of fiber-rich foods, drink plenty of water, and take an appropriate OTC remedy. I rarely have this problem, but I did this time. Kirkland’s LaxaClear worked well for me.

I’m supposed to wear my sling for six weeks. I kept on my sling 24/7 for several days. But now, since I’m stuck at home for the duration and I’m highly cognizant of not picking up anything heavier than a coffee cup or making wrong moves, I wear my sling mostly when sleeping or if I need to go outside.

This means that you will NOT be able to drive as long as you’ve been ordered to wear your sling. It’s just not safe. For me, this restriction is the worst. I’m stuck at home unless someone else drives me.

The PA did not release me to go to physical therapy for an additional four weeks in order to avoid a failed surgery, so I do passive exercises four times daily at home. Make the wrong movement or put too much stress on your injured arm, however, and that may cause an anchor to pop out. Boy, that’s a scary thought!

Please let me know if you have any worries or concerns about an upcoming shoulder surgery, and I’ll try to help. Good luck!