For The Love Of...,  Health

Preparing for Shoulder Surgery – What Do You Need?

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I have had many surgeries but mostly on my legs and hands.  Preparing for shoulder surgery was a whole different type of preparation.  It is one thing to not be able to use a leg or hand but an entire arm?  With a little preparation, the entire surgery and recovery will be a lot easier and there will be no need to panic.

A little about my shoulders…

My left shoulder has been a problem since I was in my early 20s.  No idea why but all of a sudden it just started dislocating for no reason and most often while I was sleeping.  I would wake up to it being dislocated.  Back then I did see a surgeon and they said there was really nothing they could do with 100% success and called it multi-directional instability.  My whole life this darn shoulder has been a major problem with recurrent pain.  In January I fell and injured it even more.  Now I am to the point where it hurts all the time and I am told I need a shoulder replacement which I am trying to put off as long as possible since I am only 54.  Eventually, I may have to suck it up and do it even if I am in my 50s.

In June I had a nasty fall when there was a step-down where I wasn’t expecting a step-down and tried to catch myself but managed to propel myself faster and hurt my right shoulder.  This fall I knew caused major damage to my right shoulder.  After X-rays, physical therapy, a cortisone shot, and MRI it was determined that I had a complete tear of the suprinasitis tendon and partial labrum tear.  I definitely needed rotator cuff surgery.

Trust me – when you lose the use of an arm it is easy to panic about how you are going to manage even the most basic hygiene etc… After a great deal of research, I was able to be fully prepared for my surgery and recovery has been better than I ever expected.  It isn’t easy – no one will tell you it is.  But if you are prepared, you can do this!

Prepare yourself physically

Although I was desperate for surgery I actually put it off for a few months.  I can’t help but think this time for physical and mental preparation made it so much easier.

Eat Clean – eating clean put my body into a much better state to go through surgery pretty easily.

Calm – do something to practice keeping yourself calm.  It is very easy to go through some depression after this type of surgery.  Train yourself to be able to remain calm before the surgery and you will be able to easily employ those strategies afterward.

Physical Therapy – although your formal PT may be done well before the surgical approval, it is still helpful to continue some sort of program right up until the day of surgery.  You will lose muscle very quickly after surgery but the more prepared your muscles are prior to surgery the better off you’ll be.  For me, I bought this chair gym which is not only awesome right up until surgery but once you can resume PT after surgery this helps keep your program on track while at home.  Even my daughter uses it.

An alternative option would be a resistance band set with door anchors.

Before Surgery

The week before – this will likely change once every person has received their COVID vaccination but at this time most hospitals are requiring pre-surgical COVID testing then a quarantine period between the test and the surgery.  If you are lucky enough to work from home – that’s awesome.

What should you wear – people are all over the place on this one.  Some spend money on those specialized shoulder surgery shirts with snaps to easily slide into.  Others swear by button-up shirts while some like me – just a regular ole t-shirt.  No matter what someone will help you get dressed after surgery and likely you won’t even remember it.  You will wake up from surgery in your sling which they will have either provided for you at your pre-surgical appointment or at the surgical center.

Who you should bring – in these pandemic times most hospitals will not allow anyone to go into the hospital with you.  There are a few that will but most won’t.  The intake, surgery, and recovery will take anywhere from 3-5 hours generally depending upon the severity of the procedures.  Mine took 4 hours.

Mask – of course during these pandemic times you will need to wear a mask to surgery.  It is likely the hospital will require you to remove your mask and use one of theirs.

Nerve block or no – I highly encourage you to get the nerve block if it is offered to you.  It sounds scary but totally not.  Sometimes they will do a nerve block in a separate suite while other surgeons may want it done directly in the operating room.  You will receive relaxation meds via your I.V. during the nerve block procedure – it won’t bother you one bit.  Essentially the nerve block stops you from having any pain in your shoulder for a period of time.  It can last anywhere from 8 hours to 3 days.  Mine lasted about 16 hours but I would still have done it if it was just 8 so I could be comfortable on the ride home and until I get settled in at home.  For some people, the nerve block means no feeling even all the way down to your fingertips.  Mine went the other way – I had no feeling on that side of my neck and face.

Surgical position – this may seem odd but you can’t assume you will be on your back.  I was but apparently, most surgeons prefer what they refer to as a beach chair position.  Essentially, you are sitting upright for the surgeon to have easier access to your shoulder.  It is entirely up to the surgeon’s preference.


Shower – when you can remove the bandages and actually shower is entirely up to your surgeon.  For me, I was allowed to remove the bandages and shower after the third full day.  Things you may want to consider for showers are as follows:

  • Shampoo/Soap – some people recommend pump shampoo, conditioner and body wash.  Personally, I recommend the shampoo/body wash bars.  They are easy to use and don’t require two hands.

  • Stool or bench – you can shower without a shower stool or bench but if you are on pain medications you may be slightly off balance and why risk it.  Plus, once you get out of the shower it is so much easier to get dressed for the first many weeks while sitting down.  I have this shower stool – it is very lightweight and sturdy and easy to place into the shower and out of the shower with one hand.
  • Shower Robe – for a very long time you will not be able to dry your own back.  You can either come up with some method such as blow-drying your back or wear a robe for a few minutes to let your body dry naturally.
  • Zip front bras – If you are female you are not going to be able to put a traditional bra on.  Some women may choose to just not wear one (and most will not wear one for the first several weeks anyway) but for the majority of us, we will need to wear a bra.  I switched to zippered front bras and never had an issue getting it on once I decided to start wearing one to go to work.
  • Ice – one of the best ways to combat pain from surgery is ice.  Everyone has a different preference.  When I asked prior to surgery I was told I would be given an ice machine.  Then I wasn’t given one!  Good thing I was prepared.  So many swear by the ice machines but personally, I prefer ice mats.  They stay cold for a very long time and are large enough to cover the entire area and I don’t need to disconnect a machine to move.  I kept ice on my shoulder literally 24/7 for the first 3-4 days.  As a result, I only used pain meds the first day. After that, not even over-the-counter meds.

  • Shower sling – you may or may not feel okay leaving your arm hanging when you take a shower.

    If you don’t think you will be able to do that, then choosing a shower sling is the best option.  Its unique v-comfort design improves your support by distributing the weight more evenly and minimizing pressure points around the legs even for larger people.

    If I wasn’t sitting on a stool in the shower so I could rest my arm on my lap – I probably would have used the shower sling.

  • Electric toothbrush – this one is if your surgical shoulder is your dominant arm.  It is a great deal easier to brush your teeth with your non-dominant arm if you have an electric toothbrush.
  • Recliner – we had a recliner and literally had just gotten rid of it when I found out I needed surgery.  So, we went and bought a new recliner with a remote.  Best purchase we ever made.
  • Pillows – the sooner you make a nest of pillows in your bed, the sooner you can sleep in a bed rather than the recliner.  I spent a week in the recliner before I decided to try the bed.  I probably could have tried earlier but we have a Newfoundland who adores me and I honestly was nervous she would be so excited and too rough with me.  But nope – dogs know when they need to be gentle and she definitely was.  I invested in the Medcline Body Pillow and placed some really soft pillows around the inside.  I don’t accidentally roll onto my surgical arm and haven’t had an issue since day one.  Of course, my surgical side is the side I always sleep on so I didn’t have high hopes but this setup worked amazingly well.  There are also very expensive bedding setups specifically for shoulder surgery but this is what worked for me.
  • Slip-on shoes – forget about tying shoes for a while and make sure whatever you wear is non-slip.  The last thing you want to do is fall on your surgical shoulder.  Of course, I did fall on my surgical shoulder but not due to my shoes – I live in New England and winters involve ice… UGH.  Thankfully I didn’t injure it any further.  I purchased a pair of Skechers Go Walk Sneakers – easy to slip into and not prone to slipping.

If you take care of these things, or some variation of them – your recovery should go pretty smoothly.

I wish you all well with your experience and feel free to message me if you have any questions.

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