Dr James Mclean - Orthopaedic Surgeon
Dr James Mclean - Orthopaedic Surgeon
Dr James Mclean - Orthopaedic Surgeon

Shoulder Care After Surgery

Shoulder Pain Control

Once discharged from hospital, you will be prescribed pain medication, please take as instructed. Do not wait until pain is severe before taking your medication. It is also possible for pain medication to make you feel dizzy or sleepy, prevent falls by asking someone to help you get out of bed.

It is advised to use an ice pack frequently on the shoulder for the first 48 – 72 hours after surgery to help reduce the swelling. And then ice the shoulder 2-3 times per day for the first week especially before bed.

Wound Care

Make sure you wash your hands before and after taking care of your wound to prevent infection.

Arthroscopic surgery – you may remove your dressing and have a shower after 48 hours.

If you have steri-strips (thin strips of tape) over the incision, do not pull them off, they will fall off by themselves.

If you have a pain catheter, it should be removed 72 hours after surgery along with the shoulder dressing.

Open surgery – your dressing may be removed 5 days after surgery and then shower.

Avoid hot tubs, swimming pools and immersing the incisions under water for six weeks.

Pat dry the incisions afterwards and cover with band-aids.

It is normal to notice significant bruising in the front of the shoulder and along the bicep muscle.

If you notice drainage from the incisions, swelling or increased pain within 5 days of surgery, please contact Dr James McLean immediately.

Redness around the incision is very common, however it should not be associated with drainage, spreading away from the incision or fever.

Shoulder Sling

person With Arm In Sling

Your shoulder will be placed in a sling which must be worn at all times as directed by Dr McLean. You will be required to wear a sling for up to six weeks to protect the repair in the early stages of healing. It is important that you bend and straighten you elbow and move your fingers several times a day. The sling may only be removed to shower, dress and perform physiotherapy exercises – you will be shown how to take your arm out of the sling by a nurse.

Sleeping After Shoulder Surgery

Sleeping can be challenging in the first few weeks after shoulder surgery and can be painful when lying flat on your back. It is recommended to sleep in a reclined position (many patients choose to sleep in a recliner chair). You may also place a pillow between your body and arm or under you elbow to move your arm away from your body slightly and feel more comfortable. It is important that you sleep wearing your sling.


Depending on the type of surgery you’ve had, will depend on when you will be able to drive again. Generally, we don’t recommend driving for at least 6 weeks or until you are out of your sling. Once out of your sling, you may drive if you feel safe operating a vehicle. Please limit your driving when taking your pain medication. We have a whole page about  the Australian regulations about driving after surgery.


Depending on the type of surgery you have had will depend on when physiotherapy is commenced. If a physiotherapist has not seen you immediately after surgery, it will be discussed at your first postoperative appointment.

In the first three weeks, you will be moving the shoulder joint in a specific range below shoulder level, as shown by Dr McLean or your physiotherapist.

Swimming is a great way to strengthen your shoulder and gentle modified strokes can begin as early as 6 weeks post-surgery.

Leisure and Sporting Activities

Your level of activity will increase as your rehabilitation progresses. Please discuss with Dr McLean or your physiotherapist before resuming any activities – generally we advise 6 months before returning to non-contact sports and 9-12 months before returning to contact sports.

It is important to avoid putting any weight on your arm, as well as lifting, pulling and pushing.

Measuring Progress

When full recovery can take months, it is easy to not notice how much progress you are making.  Periodically completing the shoulder self evaluation form helps you to track your before and after progress.  Take the shoulder test here.

Returning to Work

Depending on your occupation will depend on when you can return to work. If you have a desk job, you should be able to return between 2-8 weeks. Jobs requiring significant manual labour or heavy lifting often require at least 3-4 months off work.

When to call Dr James McLean

If you have any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing or sudden chest pain
  • Fall or injure your shoulder
  • Excessive bleeding (soaking through your dressing)
  • Numbness, tingling or change of sensation in your shoulder, arm or fingers
  • Swollen, red or oozing stitches
  • Fever of 38.3’C or higher