My eyelids fluttered. Slowly, the room came into focus. As a male nurse called out my name, I remembered. Earlier that day, I was lying flat on a cart on my way to the operating room. Along the way, I drifted off to sleep. Before I regained consciousness, my surgeon and his physician assistant had operated on my shoulder. As I became aware of my surroundings, I entered the Subacromial Decompression Post-Op recovery phase.
Prior to the surgery, I had been given two options for anesthesia- a nerve block or a general. While an effective nerve block would provide more pain relief during the first 24 hours, I opted for the general anesthesia. I had never experienced any issues with general anesthesia, but I was leery of some of the possible side effects of a nerve block. Most important was the fact that I was optimistic that my post-op pain levels would be manageable.
My post operative pain threshold is affected by my prior surgical experiences. I assumed that this shoulder surgery would be far less painful than my previous abdominal surgeries and two hip surgeries. Thus, my expectations of extreme pain were decreased. Moreover, the anesthesiologist assured me that if my post-op pain was excessive, he could administer the block before I left the surgical center.
Fortunately, during the first 24 hours, my pain was controlled by a prescription of hydrocodone/acetaminophen and the use of an ice machine. Less than 36 hours after the surgery, I experienced flushing in my face and neck. This annoying situation vanished after eliminating the narcotic drug. The portable ice machine became a constant companion and aided my recovery process. I considered myself lucky that I could get by with an occasional Extra Strength Tylenol capsule.
Less than 24 hours after the procedure, I returned to the surgeon’s office for my first post-op and physical therapy visits. The thick surgical dressing was removed. I was also instructed on post wound care and what I should and should not do.
Afterwards, the physical therapist took range of motion measurements and showed me how to do a handful of simple exercises. The exercises focused on my hands, wrists, elbows, neck, and shoulder.
Four days after the surgery, my husband changed the waterproof bandage. I was pleased to see that there was minimal swelling and bruising. The surgeon’s marks were more prominent than the scars or the bruising.
During the next two weeks, I was given a few more exercises.
After just a few days, I could perform the overhead flexion with minimal discomfort.
I diligently followed the doctor and physical therapist’s protocols. After completing the Subacromial Decompression Post-Op recovery phase, I am sharing 10 tips for a successful recovery.
10 Tips for a Successful Subacromial Decompression Post-Op Recovery
- Acknowledge Pain/Symptoms and Treat Accordingly
Pain levels need to remain under control. Prescribed narcotics, over-the-counter drugs, and ice should be used according to an individual’s pain tolerance and doctor’s instructions. Unless instructed otherwise, take all medication with food to avoid GI related issues. A stool softener may be needed to avoid constipation that is caused by some narcotics. Unusual symptoms and/or extreme pain needs to be reported to the doctor’s office. It is better to be proactive than to suffer unnecessarily.
The healing process will be stymied by insufficient sleep. Sleeping in a recliner may end up being the best option. Lying on the opposite side with a pillow cradled between your arms is a secondary option. Avoid sleeping in any position that causes significant pain. Finding a comfortable position in this early phase may be challenging. Napping during the day may help offset sleepless nights.
- Remain Hydrated and Eat a Balanced Diet
It is wise to flush out all of the drugs administered during surgery. Don’t forget to drink water throughout the day. Coconut water is an expensive secondary option. A decreased appetite should not be an invitation to eat junk food. Fresh fruits and vegetables as well as a fiber rich foods will help to offset the likelihood of constipation. Don’t forget to include sufficient amounts of protein into your diet.
- Follow Wound Care Directions
Until the stitches are removed, the small incisions need to be kept dry and clean. Try to avoid sweating excessively. When showering, protect the waterproof bandages with Saran Wrap or a plastic bag. Change the dressings according to the doctor’s instructions.
- Wear Comfortable Clothing
Roomy button down shirts provide the easiest access. Strapless bras may be a challenging for a well endowed woman, but will not irritate the healing wounds. Take a pass on any garment that requires your arm to go above your head or behind your back. Select shorts, pants, and/or skirts that require minimal work to get on and off.
- Initiate and Maintain Physical Therapy Protocol
Oftentimes PT will increase one’s pain level. Taking pain medication prior to a session and icing afterward will lessen this likelihood. Establishing and following a daily routine will aid in the recovery process. If the pain level exceeds what is anticipated, do not hesitate to contact the physical therapist or the doctor’s office.
- Include Daily Activity
Unless instructed by one’s doctor to remain sedentary, it is essential that you take time to move around. Weather permitting, it is advisable to go outside for a leisurely walk or remain inside to ride a stationary bicycle. A five minute walk around the house or up and down the stairs can make a huge difference. However, one should avoid sweating excessively or congested areas where one could easily be knocked into by another person.
- Wean Off Sling
Orthopedic surgeons and/or physical therapist will provide the time frame for becoming less dependent on a sling. The weaning process is dependent on the complexity of the surgery and individual recovery process. Finding one’s comfort zone is the key. After prolonged time in a sling, the arm starts to lose its flexibility and strength. Adhering to the PT protocol will help minimize any future issues.
- Avoid Painful Movements
Shoulder surgery causes different degrees of pain. Post-op instructions usually include a list of movements that should be avoided. If you are uncertain, don’t be afraid to ask. One should also be cognizant of the movements that exacerbate the discomfort.
- Maintain Positive Outlook
Emotions and mental outlook affects one’s recovery. It is easy to feel out of sorts when one’s life is temporarily limited due to the aftereffects of surgery. In order to instill a positive perspective find sufficient time to listen to music, watch comedies, read inspirational literature, and/or meditate.
Rehabbing Process Moves to Next Step
Eleven days after my surgery, the stitches were removed.A few days before my follow up visit, I had already discarded the sling. It would be a few more days before my incisions could be fully immersed in water or coated with lotion. My support stockings were no longer necessary.
I was instructed to be careful as I entered the next phase of my recovery. My arm motions were to be limited to the area immediately in front of my waist. Carrying more than a few pounds was not advised. While I never considered a container of milk to be heavy, it was now on my prohibited list. I was given the green light to drive. For the time being, I would have to focus on leading with my left arm. Shifting the car’s transmission with my left hand was awkward, but less painful than using my right arm. I started to count down the days before I could sleep through the night without waking up in pain.
Even though I have graduated to the next stage, I am following a few of the above mention tips as I return to my normal day-to-day activities.
***Sometimes life throws curve balls. Even though I meticulously followed all of the post op and physical therapy protocols, I experienced two challenging setbacks. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, consider reading Overcoming a Physical Therapy Setback.
I send my best wishes to anyone who is contemplating or has recently undergone subacromial decompression shoulder surgery.
Please feel free to share any tips you have in the comment area below.
Meaningful Anniversary (hip replacement)
Letting Go of the Past (Momster blog on Family Circle Website)
Living Without Regrets (Momster blog on Family Circle Website)
Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons.
The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and a Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.