Returning to Sports After Shoulder Surgery: What You Need to Know

Returning to Sports After Shoulder Surgery: What You Need to Know

Sidelined from sports because of a shoulder injury? It’s frustrating to sit on the bench after surgery. But going back too soon or not understanding what to expect when you return can get you back on the bench fast. 

At Ortho 1 Medical Group, with offices in Chula Vista and La Jolla, California, our experienced providers treat different shoulder injuries with different surgeries, including shoulder arthroscopy and rotator cuff repair. 

After your surgery, one of the first things our patients ask is when they can get back in the game. We understand. Here’s a look at what you can expect about returning to sports after shoulder surgery.

Understanding sports-related shoulder surgery

Every year, about 7.5 million Americans experience shoulder injuries, often related to sports. Repetitive motions from sports like swimming, tennis, baseball, and golf cause many shoulder injuries. Frequently, these injuries require surgical intervention for effective treatment. 

The most common sports-related shoulder surgeries are rotator cuff repair and shoulder arthroscopy. How fast you recover depends on several factors. These factors include:

These factors also affect how much time off you need before returning to sports. The team at Ortho 1 helps student players, trained athletes, and weekend warriors through all stages of shoulder surgery. Our goal is to get you back in the game at the right time so you can stay in the game.

What to expect when returning to sports after surgery

Fortunately, most people can return to sports after shoulder surgery. For example, research shows about 85% of athletes get back in the game after rotator cuff surgery.

Getting back in the game doesn’t happen overnight, though. Before returning to any sports, it’s important to get the approval of your doctor. 

You’ll also need to manage your expectations. Players with unrealistic expectations do too much too soon. This can land you back on the bench or even in need of more surgery. 

Here are some tips for returning to sports after shoulder surgery:

1. Recuperate fully first

Follow your healthcare team’s recommendations, and be sure you’re fully recuperated before getting back in the game. They’ll advise you when you can return.

2. Focus on shoulder strength

Strengthening your shoulder muscles is key for getting back to the game faster and safer. Physical therapy helps get you on the right path. Be sure to follow your provider's shoulder strengthening plan as you recover.

It’s important to recover most of your shoulder strength and flexibility before returning to sports. You can use your uninjured shoulder to check your progress. Once you’re recovered, maintain year-round fitness to prevent more injuries during your sport’s season. 

3. Slowly get back in the game

Once you’re cleared to return to your sport, go slowly. Always warm up before you play. And know that you might need more warm-up time after surgery than you did before. Work through your full range of motion to lower the risk of hurting your shoulder again. 

Slowly increase the amount of time you play instead of going all in or rapidly ramping up your activity. Depending on your injury, you might need to change your position, swing, or sport. This may be difficult, but your health must come first. 

4. Don’t try to tough out pain

It’s hard to let a little pain stop you from playing after you’ve been sidelined. But pain is an important sign that shouldn’t be ignored. This is even more true after you have surgery on a complex joint like your shoulder. 

If you experience pain after returning to your sport, talk to your Ortho 1 provider. They may suggest additional physical therapy. This can help you strengthen your shoulder muscles more. Your provider may also recommend more time off to avoid re-injury.

5. Always take care after you play

Even if you don’t feel pain or discomfort immediately after playing, always take care of your shoulder after sports. You can ice your surgical shoulder regularly to keep inflammation and swelling down. This helps prevent further damage to the joint.

To learn more about returning to sports after shoulder surgery, schedule an appointment over the phone or online at Ortho 1 Medical Group in Southern California. 

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