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When can I remove my abduction brace after rotator cuff surgery?

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Q: My sister-in-law and I had the same surgery for a rotator cuff tear two days apart. She's already out of her abduction brace and I'm still lugging mine around. Is it safe for me to stop wearing mine now, too?

A: Don't stop wearing your brace without first discussing the decision with your surgeon. Each patient has his or her own unique injury and repair procedure that dictates post-operative protocol.

For example, patients with small tears are often able to take the arm out of the abduction brace after only four weeks. This compares with five weeks of immobilization for patients with medium tears and six weeks for large tears. Likewise, patients with smaller tears may be allowed to move the arm sooner than patients with large or massive tears.

Sometimes there's more damage done to the joint than just the rotator cuff tear. There can be a torn labrum (rim of fibrous cartilage around the shoulder socket), other tendons frayed, or tendon tears. Any soft tissue injury of the rotator cuff can be partial or full (complete).

Extensive repairs to several injuries present at the same time can delay healing and extend recovery time. That can mean a longer period of time in an immobilizer such as the abduction brace.

Reference: Joo Han Oh, MD, PhD, et al. Modified Impingement Test Can Predict the Level of Pain Reduction After Rotator Cuff Repair. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. July 2010. Vol. 38. No. 7. Pp. 1383-1388.

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