Shoulder Arthroscopy: What to Expect


Shoulder arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that allows an orthopedic surgeon to see inside and repair a damaged joint. This procedure has distinct advantages over open shoulder surgery. Arthroscopic shoulder surgery involves making very small incisions instead of one large incision which minimizes damage to surrounding structures. The result is less pain, less scarring, and faster recovery compared to open shoulder surgery.

At Austin Orthopedic Institute, orthopedic surgeons Joel Hurt, MD, and Tyler Goldberg, MD, specialize in minimally invasive shoulder, knee, and sports-related surgery. With arthroscopy, our team can repair many types of shoulder injuries, including rotator cuff tear and clavicle fracture, as well as perform shoulder reconstruction and shoulder replacement

Here’s what to expect if you’re scheduled for arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

The role of arthroscopy

Arthroscopy allows an orthopedic surgeon to insert a small instrument with a light and camera attached (arthroscope). This instrument allows your provider to see the structures of the joint while viewing on a monitor. 

Using tiny incisions, your surgeon can insert the tools necessary to repair damaged joints. This approach is also used to diagnose joint problems.

What to expect following arthroscopic shoulder repair

Keep in mind that a one-size-fits all recovery doesn’t exist. Each recovery experience is different and your recovery will be unique to you and the set of circumstances surrounding your need for shoulder repair. The type of injury, the type of repair performed, and your current health status influence recovery. However, here are a couple of things you might expect.

Shoulder immobilization

Temporary shoulder immobilization is a key part of recovering from shoulder surgery. The amount of movement allowed following your shoulder repair will depend on the specific type of repair completed.

It’s important to follow your surgeon’s instructions carefully to keep your shoulder immobilized for the specific period of time recommended. You can expect your shoulder to be in a sling or a brace for about six weeks.


Inflammation is a natural part of your body’s healing process. However, too much inflammation can lead to stiffness and increase the risk of scarring. Your provider may recommend using ice to minimize inflammation.

In general, ice should be applied for at least 20 minutes about three times daily. Keep in mind that it is necessary to avoid placing ice directly onto the skin. Instead, you can place ice in a plastic bag with a towel around it to provide a barrier between the ice and your skin.

Pain Management

It’s common to use prescription medication to manage pain after arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Discuss pain management with your surgeon to ensure that you’re comfortable throughout the recovery process.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is key for restoring strength and mobility to your shoulder. Depending on the specific procedure performed, our team may recommend beginning physical therapy right after the operation. 

You can expect to perform specific rehabilitation exercises that help return your shoulder to full capacity. Your physical therapist will work closely with you to perform a series of exercises meant to gradually increase strength, flexibility, and mobility of the shoulder joint. 

The recovery phase generally begins with passive exercises. This involves a physical therapist moving your shoulder through the exercises for you. Once your physical therapist determines you’re ready, you can expect to move on to active motion exercises where you engage your muscles and tendons. Next, you can expect to move on to the strengthening phase. This is where to strengthen weakened muscles and restore your shoulder to full capacity.

Full recovery

Full recovery can take 4-6 months and any complications experienced during this time may extend the timeline. Recovery time depends on the type of injury and the type of repair. You can expect to have an individualized treatment plan specific to your needs to help you restore function of your shoulder as safely and quickly as possible.

You’re in compassionate, highly skilled hands if you need arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Our team can get you on the path to recovery so that you can get back to doing the things you enjoy. 

To learn more, schedule a consultation with one of our providers in Austin, Marble Falls, or Bastrop, Texas. Call or book online today.

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