, Gloucester, MA

November 2, 2012

On the Mend: Be realistic on recovery time from surgeries

On the Mend Joe DiVincenzo
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — When it comes to orthopedic injuries, it is always the hope of both the patient and the clinician that a full recovery can be reached short of performing surgery.

But, sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, there will always be a need for scalpels, sutures and staples.

The decision to proceed with surgery should always be one that’s made collaboratively between you and your surgeon (and sometimes a caregiver). Getting on the same page in advance certainly helps once you’re on the other end of the knife, so to speak.

Most would agree that having a plan in place for the post-surgical acquiescence is a sound and prudent course of action. There’s just one problem – most of the time, patients have unrealistic healing expectations.

So here is a list of some of the common surgeries you or someone close to you may need one day — and the realistic time frames you can expect:

Rotator cuff surgery prohibits you from using your arm in any realistic, functional capacity for three months. The first six weeks are spent in a sling and the next six weeks are spent strengthening it in preparation for every day use. Recovery may take up to an entire year, so don’t be discouraged if your arm isn’t changing as fast as the New England seasons.

While ACL repairs require a full nine months prior before patients may engage in sporting activities, they usually regain normal walking and working abilities within three months time. The knee will ache though, so don’t expect it to be pain free until the five month mark – or later.

Bunions are more than just unsightly – they’re associated with a long recovery, and it can be up to two months or more before your foot feels comfortable in a shoe again. It will be another month before you’re ready to resume gym and other recreational activities.

Carpal tunnel surgery has improved radically in the last 15 years, but will leave you sore for several weeks following surgery. Once the ache goes away, don’t be surprised if you get little “zingers” here and there for the next few months. Full, pain-free gripping and twisting abilities can be expected around the three-month mark.

Compression fractures in the spine can be easily treated through a procedure called balloon kyphoplasty. Cement is injected into the body of the vertebrae to rebuild the collapsed bone. While the initial injury is acutely and intensely painful, the procedure is not, and many patients leave the office as good as new.

Meniscal tears in the knee can be a huge pain before surgery, but the recovery time is fairly quick. Patients that participate in a comprehensive therapy program of mobilization and strengthening usually regain their ability to participate in sports between six and eight weeks after surgery.

Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes “On the Mend” weekly. Questions may be submitted by email to