4 Ways to Prepare Your "Other" Arm Before Shoulder Surgery

Limited mobility after shoulder surgery can vary from days to weeks, depending on the surgery performed. See how you can prepare your ‘other’ arm now.

Getting ready for shoulder surgery? Your post-operative recovery depends a lot on the type of procedure you're having. For example, rotator cuff surgery typically requires you to keep your operated arm immobilized in a sling for a while, whereas you'll likely be moving your arm within a day or two after a shoulder replacement surgery.1,2 In fact, don't be surprised if an occupational therapist or physical therapist comes knocking on your hospital door on the day of your surgery!2

Your surgical team should carefully review what to expect from your procedure so you'll feel well-prepared. But, no matter what type of shoulder surgery you're having, there's one thing you can expect… your non-surgical arm is going to be doing its fair share of work while you recover from shoulder surgery. Here are 4 ways you can get your ‘other’ arm ready to pick up the slack.

4 Ways to Prepare Your "Other" Arm Before Shoulder Surgery

1. Start practicing

It's common to have activity restrictions or mobility precautions after shoulder surgery in order to protect the healing joint and incision. For instance, you may not be allowed to push, pull, actively lift your arm, or carry anything. As you might imagine, this means you'll have to adjust to a new way of doing certain things, at least until the surgeon lifts your precautions.

So, start practicing tasks with your opposite hand—especially if the non-surgical arm is your non-dominant one. Tasks you may want to experiment with include:

  • Brushing your teeth or hair
  • Putting on your shoes
  • Typing on your phone
  • Unlocking and opening your door
  • Putting on your shirt

2. Make your environment "other arm" friendly

Look around your home. Are there things you can move around to make it easier to function with just one arm during your recovery? Here are a few ideas to have in mind:

  • Use shampoo and lotion bottles with pump handles
  • Place frequently used silverware, dinnerware, or pantry items on lower shelves
  • Get an easy-open day-of-the-week pill dispenser for your prescription medications and supplements
  • Sleep on whatever side of the bed allows your non-surgical arm to be on the outside (so it's easier to reach things from your bedside table)

3. Practice your exercises

Some research suggests that exercising and building strength before surgery (sometimes called "prehab") can improve your outcomes.4,5 Ask your doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist for a home exercise program to maximize the strength and function of both your arms before your operation. While you're at it, ask them about increasing your daily physical activity. Going into any surgery as fit as possible may help things go more smoothly.4

4. Look into adaptive equipment

Your surgeon, occupational therapist, or physical therapist may recommend certain pieces of adaptive equipment to help you move and function safely after your operation, even while using just one "good" arm. Possible suggestions may include long-handled shoehorns, long-handled sponges, sock-aids, reachers, tub benches, and raised toilet seats. Many of these items are available online or in medical supply stores, and some may be covered by insurance, so be sure to ask your provider what would be best for you.

  1. Postoperative Care (n.d.). Washington University Physicians. https://www.ortho.wustl.edu/content/Patient-Care/3416/Services/Shoulder-Elbow/Overview/Rotator-Cuff/Postoperative-Care.aspx
  2.  Recovering from shoulder replacement surgery (n.d.). UCSF Health. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/recovering-from-shoulder-replacement-surgery
  3. Sgroi, T.A. and Cilenti M. (2018). Rotator cuff repair: post-operative rehabilitation concepts. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. 11(1): 86–91.  https://health.clevelandclinic.org/when-is-shoulder-replacement-a-good-option-for-osteoarthritis/
  4. Hoogeboom, TJ., et al. (2014). Merits of execise therapy before and after major surgery. Current Opinions in Anesthesiology. 27(2): 161–166. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4072442/
  5. Snow, R., et al. (2014). Associations between preoperative physical therapy and post-acute care utilization atterns and cost in total joint replacement. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. 96(19).  https://journals.lww.com/jbjsjournal/Abstract/2014/10010/Associations_Between_Preoperative_Physical_Therapy.11.aspx
Please let us know how useful this article was to you

Thank you for rating this article.

Here's more you can do

Share Your Story

People like you need to hear that they're not alone. Your story can make a difference in their life.
I Want to Share My Story

Be Informed. Be Prepared!

Sign up for personalized article recommendations in your email.
Get Updates

About Us

Learn more about who we are and our mission of helping patients find balance in their lives.
About Us

Find a Doctor

Search by speciality, location and more. Find the right provider for you.
Find a Doctor