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Discharge Instructions for Open Rotator Cuff Repair

You had a procedure called open rotator cuff repair. The rotator cuff consists of the muscles and tendons that surround your shoulder. The rotator cuff keeps the top of your upper arm bone (humerus) securely in the shoulder joint. Your doctor made an incision near your shoulder blade and repaired the torn muscles or tendons in your shoulder. Here are instructions to follow when caring for your arm at home.


Man leaning over with back straight, supporting himself on back of chair with one hand. Other arm is hanging from shoulder with arrows showing arm moving in circle.
You may be told to do daily “pendulum swings” to improve your joint’s flexibility. Use your torso to move your arm in a circle as it hangs straight down, first in one direction, then the other.

  • After surgery, rest your arm and relax for the rest of day.

  • If you had general anesthesia (were put to sleep for the procedure), don’t operate power tools or machinery, drink alcohol, or make any major decisions for at least 24 hours following surgery.

  • Wear your sling, brace, or immobilizer, as directed.

  • Don’t drive a car until your doctor says it’s OK. And never drive while taking opioid pain medication.

  • Flex your wrist and wiggle your fingers often to help blood flow.

  • Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, do pendulum exercises with your affected arm, starting 1 day(s) after your surgery:

    • Hold on to the back of a chair, or lean on a tabletop with your healthy hand.

    • Let your arm hang straight down toward the floor and use your torso to move your affected arm in a circle. First do 20 circles in one direction. Then do 20 circles in the other direction.

    • Repeat the pendulum exercise every 2 hour(s) while you are awake. When you feel ready, increase the number of circles to 50 in each direction every 2 hour(s).

Incision care

  • Check your incision daily for redness, tenderness, or drainage.

  • Don’t soak in a bathtub, hot tub, or pool until your doctor says it’s OK.

  • Wait 3 day(s) after your surgery to begin showering. Then shower as needed. Carefully wash your incision with soap and water. Gently pat it dry. Don’t rub the incision, or apply creams or lotions.

  • Your incision was closed using sutures, staples, or strips of tape. If you have sutures or staples, they may need to be removed 2-3 weeks after surgery. Allow the strips of tape to fall off on their own.

Other home care

  • Use pain medication as directed by your doctor.

  • Apply an ice pack or bag of frozen peas—or something similar—wrapped in a thin towel on your shoulder to reduce swelling for the first 48 hours. Leave the ice pack on for 20 minutes; then take it off for 20 minutes. Repeat as needed.

  • Take your temperature daily for 7 days after your surgery. Report a fever above 100.4°F (38°C)  to your doctor. Fever may be a sign of infection.


Make a follow-up appointment as directed by our staff.


When to seek medical attention

Call 911 right away if you have any of the following:

  • Chest pain

  • Shortness of breath

Otherwise, call your doctor immediately if you have any of the following:

  • Increasing shoulder pain or pain not relieved by medication

  • Pain or swelling in the arm on the side of your surgery

  • Numbness, tingling, coolness, or blue-gray color of your arm or fingers on the side of your surgery

  • Fever above 100.4°F (38.0°C) or shaking chills

  • Drainage or oozing, redness, or warmth at the incision

  • Nausea or vomiting

Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/7/2013
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.