What can you do with one hand, after rotator cuff surgery



Yes, MaChatte I would still like to hide too, but if we write some of my experience down, maybe it will help somebody else preparing for rotator cuff surgery and the immobilization of recovery afterward.  I read quite a few articles that helped me learn to think one handed before my surgery, so maybe I can add some things for people. Typing is hard after the surgery, but you can write a long blog beforehand and add to it after you’ve had post-op experience, lol.   Love the WordPress process, being able to publish then with one click!

The best thing for me is that my operated shoulder is not my dominant hand.  You have to learn to think an entirely different way if that’s not the case with you.  I read one article that said that if your operated shoulder  is your dominant hand, that bathroom hygiene should be practiced ahead of time.  OK,  we got that said and out of the way, but that’s important.

But you also can’t write if your dominant hand is in the sling, and depending on how ambidextrous you might be, everything you do all day could cause you more problems, as if any of us wearing this sling don’t have enough problems.

I tried really hard to pre-plan a lot of routine activities, and made some changes in my house to make things easier.  I did that by imagining my elbow stuck to my side and only my wrist and fingers able to move, while I walked around in my house doing ordinary things.  What I learned was a lot, and could probably be easier discussed by saying what you can’t do with one hand.  Here’s some ideas  that hopefully will get you thinking……and planning…so that your immobilization and recovery go as well as they can.  You need to behave yourself and follow your surgeon’s instructions, to let the shoulder heal, so you can get out of that sling!  Then there’s extensive PT, but that’s another issue.

You get out of bed.  Do you normally use the op hand to help push yourself up out of bed? Not any more.  And good luck finding a position to sleep in, especially with a large sling including the pillow if yours has a pillow under you arm. People suggest a recliner if you’re lucky enough to have one and also lucky enough to be able to sleep sitting up.

You can brush your teeth one  handed, but you know how you wash your hair with two hands?  No you don’t.  (You might find yourself getting a little more relaxed about that hairdo…) And there will be bird baths for a while when you can’t get in the shower due to possible infection in your stitches. (Surgeon’s instructions being the only directions on the timing!)  And we all know that bird baths are….for the birds!  So you do the best you can.  You know how you use a towel to dry your back, with both hands?  No you don’t.  A terry cloth robe can substitute for a towel, kind of a towel you wear, and dry the rest of you with your good hand. You can’t use a curling iron the way you normally do ladies, holding the hair up with one hand and curling it with the other.  Hopefully you have an easy hair do. Oh, and cut your toenails before the surgery. That is just so not happening.

Putting on clothes is a whole big issue.  You have to deal with your op shoulder the way you were taught after surgery, but one thing for sure is that button or zip up the front shirts are the best.  I can’t imagine getting anything pullover on without injuring the op shoulder. Any kind of tight pants, good luck with that, and getting them zipped and buttoned, lol.  Sweat pants or any that slip on easy are good, since you only have one hand to pull them up.  (I love my jeans in the winter, and will just look at them in the closet for a while, hoping this gets over sooner rather than later.) Sox are fun.  It takes a few moves to jimmy them up one handed.  And hopefully you have shoes that don’t tie. Unless you’re some kind of skilled acrobat, you’re not getting the op hand down there to tie shoes right away, maybe after 2 weeks.  Maybe the foot will come up….not me, maybe when I was younger.   Wearing a coat to go away?  You need one with slippy material inside the sleeves, so you don’t require two hands or a helper to slip it on and off, if it’s sticking to your shirt.  Hats are easy one handed things, and hey, maybe you need a hat anyway cos you don’t have an easy hairdo!  🙂

I think we got out of the bathroom, on to the kitchen!  You can cook with one good hand and the op hand adding a little help.  Cooking easy things makes everything better, and you can’t lift any heavy dishes that take two hands. (Not a good time to roast a turkey, unless you have a helper.)   You can wash dishes if you can position the op hand right to hold the dish while you wash it with your good hand, but don’t get the edge of your sling wet. I rearranged my cabinets to change a couple stacks of heavier glass dishes around so I could handle using a couple of them.  No sense having a concussion and broken glass trying to wrangle heavy glass at some upper level, with one hand.   Paper plates are good for a while too.  Or, maybe you have a dishwasher, mechanical or human.

There’s other  stuff to think of, like reading a paper newspaper.  You could lay it down on the floor since you can’t hold it up and turn pages.  But it’s hard to read it then with a cat laying on it.  Folding sheets is fun, but the fitted ones were always hard to do with two good hands.  Laundry is ok if the clothes basket is light enough for one hand.  The cat needs to stay out of that process, or at least out of the laundry basket.

Oh you can pick up a 10 pound cat one handed and carry her around.  It will cause the rear end of the cat to swing around a little, which may or may not be agreeable to the cat.

One never knows the weight of an arm till you bear that weight on your neck.  Your neck and back might ache…..watch your posture, keeping your shoulders back. That will help.

Now I hope writing some of this down helped get somebody pre-op to thinking about ways to make the recovery period easier.  I have to laugh about all this a little, cos it is a life changing surgery and recovery.  Hopefully your life won’t have to change for too long, and your recovery is quick and healing complete afterward. Your doctor’s instructions are the most important rules to remember, cos only he knows what’s best for your case.  But you need to adapt your own life to make it easier to get thru this, and then to be able to get on with other activities that you will miss during your recovery. I’m going to grow things in the spring, without the use of a shovel, hoe or rake all summer, because my surgeon said the healing actually goes on that long.  If there’s a way to garden, I’ll find it!

Good luck if you’re having this surgery! I can tell you that the first 4 days or so are the worst, and then things start to get better.


37 responses to “What can you do with one hand, after rotator cuff surgery

  1. I have a shoulder problem that is getting worse… many things I can no longer do,,,, so who knows I might be going this route. Sending you healing vibes.

    • Thanks! Did you get it checked out to see what the problem is? I had arthritis and bone spurs in the joint, but that’s the easy part and wouldn’t even have required the sling. The bad parts were the torn rotor cuff and a piece of bicep muscle torn away from the bone.

  2. Thanks Herman. Feeling good now, as opposed to feeling really lousy the first couple days, makes everything better already. Now it’s just a bunch of inconvenience, which one can deal with when you know there is an end in sight. 🙂

  3. It is amazing all the little things we take for granted. I think people can adapt quite well and I am sure you will find some way to garden.

    • Oh yes I will. With some minimal help from my kids, all small garden tools, and good determination plus good earth. 🙂 More 12′ Lima beans, etc!

  4. My heart goes out to you! It’s not an easy thing that you are going through. I think it’s really wonderful of you to write this post. I feel safe in saying I’m sure it will be helpful to those going through this. I lucked out with my shoulder. My rheumatologist thought it might be a torn rotator cup but it turned out to only be tendonitis. I remember how relieved he was that it was not a torn rotator cup and after reading all that you have been going through I can see why!

    • I’m glad yours turned out to be easier to take care of, Jackie. This is definitely no picnic. The good thing now is it’s already half over: there’s light at the end of the tunnel! Till the evening my neck and back hurt from the weight of the arm being carried by the sling around my neck. Soon, tho, it goes away, (the 25th, yesss) I’ll be cleared to drive and also start PT to strengthen the whole shoulder and get it moving again after 4 weeks of immobilization. I’ll be ready for all of that! Thanks. 🙂

  5. Thanks so much for the info. I’m at my 9th day post surgery & have become quite the lefty. I was one of the lucky ones with minimal pain after the nerve block wore off. Thank the Gods! lol

    • It sounds like you’re doing good. You’re welcome. I hoped that writing down my experience would help others. I hope you can get rid of your sling soon. Keep following that surgeon’s instructions!

  6. I had shoulder surg. on the dominant side. I know the inconvenience is temporary. Now the issue of lg. dogs having to go and either eat their stuff (tmi) or go after rabbits combined w ice & snow—-I think I am going to sign the dogs up for a scheduled play date (doggy day care) once a wk. That should at least get some energy worn off. I had to be creative & careful about picking up their poops w/o slipping, etc. I carry an oatmeal box and throw the poops right in that at the spot- easier than my 2 handed option. I know- tmi but the problem is partly solved.

    • Best wishes on continuing to heal Sue. It is temporary but so intrusive into your life, and each person has their own special things they have to figure out. Just make sure you follow your surgeon’s instructions to get it over with as soon as possible. Thanks for visiting my blog; I hope it helped!

  7. So glad I found this blog. I am getting ready to have rotator cuff repair and bicep tenodesis surgery on my dominant side. Truthfully, it does have me a bit worried – not so much the surgery as the recovery afterwards and using my non-dominant hand/arm for everything!!!!! I’ve had back surgery in the past, and I think this is going to be so much more “inconvenient”!! I have been getting meals put in the freezer so that’s one less thing I’ll have to worry about during the recovery time. It’s just my husband and I here at home now – all the kids have moved out. I know hubby will help me out the best he can, but he’s an ex-dairy farmer and all he knows is outside stuff!!!!! It will definitely be an interesting time. Again, thanks for all your words of wisdom. I’ll have them to cling onto!!!!

    • You’re so welcome! It warms my heart every time somebody replies to this blog to tell me it helped them in some way. It is so inconvenient, especially for people having their dominant side done. But you’re making good plans and thinking ahead for what your individual problems will be, and that’s the way to make it go easier. Remember your surgeon’s rules are the most important ones, and following them will get you thru this quicker and with a better end result. Good luck with all of it, and come back and tell me how it went for you.

  8. Hi I”m having rotator cuff surgery later this month. What did you do for a bra? Did you wear one or strapless ones? I’m scared.

    • There was no way to get a bra on while I had the sling on. If you’re scared, talk to your surgeon, and hopefully he can make you feel better so you’re not scared. Tell him what you’re scared of and have him talk you thru it. Good luck with surgery and recovery.

    • Probably too late for you now…but
      I’ve been wearing a stretchy strapless bra I pull up from bottom…

      • Yea, I didn’t use a bra like like that, and didn’t go out much during that month. But it’s good for other people to read your comment. This blog post gets read many times from people searching for help when they’re about to have this surgery. Thanks!

      • I didn’t bother with a bra for the first few days. And I was putting on a Sports Bra after that, which I would bend over to work it over my head etc. My regular bras I always connected from the front and then rotated it to the back, bending over again so I didn’t have to put any pressure on my shoulder. I think if you need to twist your hand behind your back then you are out of luck. Just get used to connecting it from the front and then moving it to your back. Good luck, and It will all be a memory. ( I’m 14 weeks out from my surgery and if I had to do it again I wouldn’t hesitate. The difference is unbelievable

      • You hear only the worst about it. I have been telling anyone and everyone that if prepared you can have a much better experience & the light at the end of the tunnel if brilliant !

      • Yes, I was so glad I thought it all thru beforehand and prepared myself and things around the house, mainly in the kitchen.

      • I am 6 weeks post rotator cuff surgery. All is going well. I didn’t go many places the first month. Getting ready was such a big job!! I had my husband helping dry my hair and putting the bra on. I had surgery on my dominant side so the non-dominant arm really got a workout! Physical therapy is going well and my surgeon’s assistant said I’m ahead of the game! It’s still a long road to full recovery, but we knew that going in. Glad I can finally have the dominant helping out with some small “chores” now. One of the biggest things was being able to get back into the bed from my recliner. I was in the recliner for over a month. My problem was that I am use to sleeping on the side I had the surgery done on. I think I have finally turned a corner!! Good luck to you on your surgery!

      • Mine’s been done for a couple years, and I’m so glad this blog post is valuable to others. Sounds like you are doing well with all of it, cool!

  9. Thank you so much for this blog post. It is reassuring when you find that someone else has had to go through the same difficulties that you are having. I find my biggest problem is that I am impatient. I want it to be fixed yesterday. The healing process seems to take so long and I get frustrated that I can’t do those things that I normally take for granted. My husband reassures me that it will soon be better and I just need to be patient.
    All the points you make are so exactly how it is and as one of the commentators said it is good to be able to read what it is going to be like.
    Many thanks again.

    • You’re very welcome. This has been read by hundreds of people since I wrote it, and that’s what I was hoping for; that it would help other people. Patience is the idea, cos it does take a while. Listen to your doctor so you get the best long term results. Good luck!

  10. Just another update from me. Today is my 12 week post op surgical appointment. When I had the surgery March 1, this looked so far away. After that first month, things really moved along well. I was lucky and only had to go to physical therapy once a week. I was very faithful with that at home, which helped alot. At this point, I’m still working on strengthening my shoulder. That will take a few months yet. I know people are impatient, me included, but time passes and things will turn out good as long as your follow your surgeon’s orders. As of today, I can get my arm all the way up with help!!!!! By itself, it’s not far away. Makes having the rotator cuff surgery all worth while. Just hopine my other shoulder stays “healthy” so I don’t have to go thru this again!!!!

    • That’s great! Thanks for coming back to tell your story. It will give encouragement to other people. It’s a long and not easy process, but following all the docs rules is the way to get the best long term outcome. Keep going!

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  12. Thanks a million for your humor and support. No one quite knows what it will be like until you go through it. Even then every movement the wrong way can send you into orbit. I am a writer so that is my Achilles Heel right now. My dominant arm/ shoulder was operated on and I think I am doing too much writing. ( I had surgery ten days ago.) My hand and fingers are agiile so I’m doing the best I ca. My post op appointment is in two days so I’ll find out then. All in all it hasn’t been too bad but, I know I have a long way to go. Thanks so much for your joy. We are truly a Band of Brothers / Sisters, Mary

    • Thanks for your kind words and I’m glad the post gave you some ideas. I tried to write something that would be very helpful and yet not to be giving any medical advice, since I’m surely not qualified to do that. Wrote that a long time ago and people still read it every week, so I hope it helped! Good luck at your appointment!

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