Shoulder Arthroscopy Post-Operative Care

Check with your doctor to make sure these instructions apply to your case. 

Wound dressing

  • After shoulder arthroscopy the wound is covered with gauze or ace wraps. 
  • These should generally be left in place for 24 hours.
  • Due to the large amount of fluid used during the arthroscopy, it is normal to see some bloody drainage on the dressings.
  • If bright red blood persists despite elevation and application of ice, please call the doctor.
  • The dressing should be removed and wounds covered with adhesive bandages on the first or second day after surgery.
  • Do not remove the paper strips over the incision or cut any visible sutures.
  • Wounds should be kept dry for 48 hours.
  • Unless otherwise instructed, on the 5th day after the surgery, the wound may be exposed in the shower, taking care not to scrub the area.
  • The wound should not be submerged in a bathtub or pool until three weeks after surgery.


  • It is very important to apply ice for the first 5-7 days after surgery.
  • While the post-op dressing is in place, apply ice continuously.
  • Once the dressing is removed on the first or second day, ice is applied for 20-minute periods, 3-4 times per day.
  • Care must be taken with ice to avoid frostbite.

Exercise & mobility

On the first day after surgery, begin doing the physical therapy exercises that were given to you. 

  • You may use your arm to assist with dressing, eating and personal hygiene unless specifically instructed not to by your physician.
  • Be sure to use and move your hand, wrist and elbow in order to decrease swelling in your arm. While exercise is important, don't over-do it. Common sense is the rule.
  • You will also be instructed on gentle range of motion exercises to be started the night of surgery.
  • Passive range of motion (using the opposite hand to move the operated arm) is always encouraged and can speed up the recovery.


  • The anesthetic drugs are used during your surgery and they may cause nausea for the first 24 hours. 
  • If nausea occurs, drink only clear liquids (i.e., Sprite or 7-up).
  • The only solid food that should be eaten is dry crackers or toast.
  • If nausea and vomiting become severe or the patient shows sign of dehydration (lack of urination) please call the doctor or the surgery center.
  • A low-grade fever (100.5) is not uncommon in the first 24 hours but is unusual beyond.
  • Please call the doctor with any temperature over 101.0 degrees.
  • You may take one baby aspirin (81 mg) a day until your sutures are removed in the office. This may lower the risk of a blood clot developing after surgery.
  • Bruising down to the elbow and chest wall is not uncommon.
  • Should severe calf pain occur or significant swelling of calf and ankle, please call the doctor.

Pain medication

  • Local anesthetics (i.e., Novocaine) are put into the joint during surgery. 
  • It is not uncommon for patients to encounter more pain on the first or second day after surgery. This is the time when swelling peaks.
  • Using the pain medication as directed will help control pain with little risk of complication.
  • Taking pain medication before bedtime will assist in sleeping.
  • It is important not to drink alcoholic beverages or drive while taking narcotic medication.
  • If you were prescribed narcotic medication (i.e. vicodin, hydrocodone, darvocet) you can supplement those medications with 200 mg or 400 mg of ibuprofen every 4-6 hours.
  • You should resume your normal medications for other conditions the day after surgery.
  • We have no specific diet restrictions after surgery but extensive use of narcotics can lead to constipation. High fiber diet, lots of fluids, and muscle activity can prevent this occurrence.

Sleeping & shoulder support

  • Patients are generally more comfortable sleeping in a reclining chair or with pillows propped behind the shoulder which has had the surgery. Some difficulty with sleeping is common for 2-3 weeks after surgery. 
  • Following shoulder surgery, it is common to use a sling for 3-5 days after surgery. In some cases the doctor is going to ask you to use the sling for a longer period of time.

Follow-up care

  • The doctor will need to reexamine you 7-10 days after routine shoulder arthroscopy. Please contact us to schedule a follow-up appointment.
  • If unexpected problems, emergencies or other issues occur and you need to talk to the doctor, contact us. After hours our answering service will route your call to a physician who will be able to advise you concerning your problem.


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