Study examines rotator cuff surgery patient’s return to driving

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According to a new study, it is safe for patients who have undergone rotator cuff repair to return to driving just two weeks after surgery.

Study examines rotator cuff surgery patient’s return to driving

typical shoulder cast sling
Typical shoulder sling following rotator cuff repair.

According to a new study, it is safe for patients who have undergone rotator cuff repair to return to driving just two weeks after surgery. Orthopaedic advice for this has traditionally been 4-6 weeks, and if you consult various practices and authorities across the country, that length varies, but few mention 2 weeks as an option.

This new study tested 32 patients following rotator cuff surgery, 27 of which completed all the drive tests. Researchers say that patients showed no clinically important negative impact on driving fitness as early as 2 weeks after rotator cuff repair. According to the researchers, adaptive driving behaviors were present both preoperative and postoperatively, meaning subjects were already driving cautiously due to the shoulder pain.

Rotator Cuff Injuries, treatment, and recovery

A rotator cuff injury or tear is a common cause of pain and disability of the shoulder. It is common in both young athletes and middle-aged people. It happens so often that each year, almost 2 million people in the United States visit their doctors due to this problem.

It is not uncommon for athletes participating in sports – particularly those involving repetitive overhead motions of the arm – to experience painful rotator cuff tears. In older patients, sudden trauma and the natural aging process can also result in shoulder pain caused by rotator cuff tears.

When a rotator cuff tear does not respond to non-surgical efforts and when quality of life becomes an issue, surgical intervention is often the course. One method considered to be the standard of care is called arthroscopic reconstructive surgery where small incisions and a tiny camera are used to facilitate repair. Recent advances in this technique make it possible for surgeons to treat larger tears while decreasing the instances of post-operative pain and stiffness. About 80-90 percent of patients find relief of chronic pain and a restoration to more normal function and motion of the arm and shoulder.

Following surgery, on-going physical therapy following rotator cuff surgery can last up to 12 weeks and is aimed at helping patients regain full strength and function with very positive results.

Patients just want to get back to normal

Researchers in this study aimed to define patient’s number one concern following surgery; when can they drive again? Although every post-surgery recommendation for getting back behind the wheel tends to be weeks long, evidence-based guidelines have been missing up to this point. Therefore, surgeons are often overly conservative in their guidelines. Researchers point out that this effect only causes unnecessary inconvenience on patients and their families. The results of this study show definitively that patients can get back to getting around with little concern for increased driving risks post-surgery.

The study was very thorough with patient’s baseline driving performance being recorded prior to the surgery and then tested again 2, 4, 6 and 12 weeks after the rotator cuff repair. Each patient was tested for parking skills, left and right turns, straightaways, yielding, highway merges and U-turns. The total course length was 15 miles and lasted about 45 to 55 minutes. Patients generally braked less aggressively, steered more smoothly, and drove more stable at two weeks post-op. They also drove more smoothly on highway merges.

This study was published online on July 21, 2022, in the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.


SRO Shoulder and Elbow Care Center

As one of the top programs in the North Bay for shoulder care Santa Rosa Orthopaedic’s Shoulder and Elbow programs provides highly specialized care to those experiencing arm pain. Our patients benefit from the expertise and skill of specialists who perform countless procedures each year while continually pioneering advances in repair and replacement. Learn more …

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