Shoulder Surgery Recovery: What to Know | Ivy Rehab

Total Joint Shoulder Surgery Recovery

The shoulder is a highly mobile joint and often one of the first joints in the human body to develop arthritis. The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint between the shoulder blade (scapula) and the upper arm bone (humerus). Other important bones in the shoulder include the “roof” of the shoulder joint, which is made up of the acromion (a bony projection off the shoulder blade) and the collar bone (clavicle).  A total shoulder replacement is the 3rd most common joint replacement and is a highly successful procedure. Another name for the Total Shoulder Replacement is Total Shoulder Arthroplasty (TSA).  This procedure, along with physical therapy, allows individuals to return to their previous level of functioning with significant pain relief. 

Are there different types of Total Shoulder Replacements that can be performed? 

There are two common types of shoulder replacement surgery that are routinely performed: the traditional TSA and reverse TSA. With the traditional TSA, the ball of the joint (head of the humerus) is replaced with a metal ball, and the socket is replaced with a smooth plastic cup. With the reverse TSA, the ball and socket are switched: a metal ball implant is placed where the patient’s socket was, and a plastic socket is placed where the patient’s humeral head (ball portion of the joint) was.  

Each shoulder replacement surgery is reported to be highly successful and the best option for you should be discussed with your orthopedic surgeon. 

What is the shoulder surgery recovery time?  

The recovery from a total shoulder replacement varies from person to person, but it generally takes eight weeks or more for patients to regain shoulder strength. Keep in mind though, that it may take several months for patients to return to strenuous exercise levels or heavy labor. It is especially important in the early stages of rehabilitation to listen to the guidance from the physical therapist to avoid any setbacks in the recovery process. 

A typical recovery process is as follows:

  • 4-6 weeks: Patient is typically in a sling and must also avoid strenuous activity
  • 6-8 weeks: Full shoulder movement is typically restored
  • 8-12 weeks: Patients begin resistive exercises and work toward returning to previous shoulder strength
  • 3 months: Basic function is restored
  • 1 year: At times, a full recovery can take up to 1 year to ensure a safe return to previous lifestyles and hobbies.

See related: Hip Replacement Surgery Recovery: 8 Tips

What is the fastest way to recover from shoulder surgery?  

Some shoulder surgery recovery tips include adhering to guidelines and advice given to you by your orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist. 

The key components for an optimal recovery include:

  • Proper pain management
  • Keeping activity to defined parameters to avoid increased pain and doing too much, too soon
  • Maintaining adequate nutrition and sleep – this allows for optimal healing and minimizing inflammation as your body recovers

How long does shoulder pain last after surgery?  

Post surgery pain is well managed by nurses and doctors and typically does not last long. In the 1-3 days following surgery, most people will experience pain at the incision site and will be given pain medication at home. Pain can also be managed by cold packs and additional treatment provided by a physical therapist.  

What is the most painful shoulder surgery?  

Pain is perceived and experienced differently by every individual making it difficult to definitively state which surgery is most painful. It is important to recognize that pain post surgery is normal but is not something to be fearful of. Pain is the body’s way of recognizing there is some sort of an issue, and a physical therapist can help you with pain relief.     

What are the benefits of physical therapy for shoulder surgery?

Physical therapy will help you safely and optimally recover from your shoulder injury. Physical therapy will ensure a holistic approach to healthcare that will assist the shoulder joint return to optimal functioning and will allow YOU to return to desired activities and hobbies pain-free.  

How do I know if I need a shoulder replacement? 

A shoulder replacement is usually indicated if a person is experiencing signs and symptoms consistent with arthritis such as:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Crepitus (crunching sounds)
  • Shoulder movement difficulty 

Initially, most doctors will try to treat this conservatively with cortisone and anti-inflammatories but when these stop working- it is most likely a sign that surgery is needed.

How can Physical Therapy help 

Physical therapy can help a person recover from a total shoulder replacement by guiding the individual through a structured exercise protocol, improving shoulder function and range of motion, and allowing you to get back to pain-free activities.  


Article By: Bridgette Sakar, DPT, PT, OCS 

Bridgette Sakar began her physical therapy career 7 years ago. Bridgette loves working with the athletic population and believes that an active body is a healthy body. Bridgette is a graduate of the HSS Ivy Rehab Orthopedic Residency Program and is a board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. She currently specializes in orthopedic and sports injuries. Bridgette currently treats patients at Ivy Rehab Physical Therapy in Denville, NJ.   

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