Shoulder Surgery Part 1: Preparing for Surgery


Last October I had shoulder surgery. Throughout the process, I knew I wanted to share what I learned on the blog because I wished I had known more going into it. I searched for information online and didn’t find a whole lot, so I hope this post will help serve as an informational guide before you have your procedure. The “how-to” of shoulder surgery that the doctors don’t give.

*Before I begin, I need to note that my surgery was a very different procedure than most shoulder surgeries. I had surgery to tighten the joint, because I was having consistent subluxations (partial dislocations) and the joint was completely unstable. After suffering for nearly six years with many restless nights, I finally decided there were no other options. The goal of this surgery was to actually limit my range of motion, and tighten the whole joint. Therefore my recovery time was much slower than a rotator cuff tear, for example. For most shoulder surgeries, the surgeon and therapists want you to be moving it within a week or two. My arm stayed in the sling for over a month. Keep this in mind when reading dates and timeline, as yours may very well be faster.


Check out the tie-dye shirts I made ahead of time here.

  • For the day of surgery make sure to bring your own shirt that you are OK with cutting down the side, or at the very least a very large stretchy shirt.
  • Stretchy shorts or pants are always good to pull up since you will be in a gown for the procedure.
  • Strapless and front clip bra – I wore a bandeau bra for the first couple weeks because I could slide it up from my feet over my hips
  • Sticky/grippy socks – usually the hospital will give you these, but they’re always a good idea after anesthesia

Pre-op instructions:

Here are the instructions they gave me before surgery. Of course yours may be different, but a heads up on some ideas:

  • No lotion or deodorant the day of
  • No hair gel the day of
  • No jewelry the day of
  • No food the morning of (and usually about 12+ hours before)
  • Minimal liquids the morning of, but a little water is OK (and necessary)
  • No ant-inflammatory meds 10 days or two weeks (I forget which) before surgery
  • Don’t shave within 24 hours of surgery (at least near shoulder to prevent infection)
  • Expect to spend 3-5 hours in the recovery room (I only spent about 1 1/2 hours in recovery – they like to get you out as soon as possible to make room for the next patient :p)
  • The morning of surgery, I wrote “This one” on the arm that was having surgery. In reality, wrong side surgeries are not uncommon, so it can’t hurt. I also wrote “wrong arm” on the non-affected side. I don’t actually know that this is a good idea, but it made me feel better.



What to bring to the hospital:

  • Ultrasling (aka your new bff) – you should be given this before surgery so don’t forget to bring it! When you wake up, they will probably have already put the sling on. I recommend getting it fitted before you go in.
  • T-shirt with side cut out (or very large shirt)
  • Stretchy pants/shorts
  • Stretchy bra, or strapless, or just don’t wear one
  • Pillows to prop arm up in the car on the way home
  • If you have food allergies – bring crackers, rice, or something small you can eat!
    • No food = no pain killers. You can’t take pain meds when you wake up until you eat. Since I’m gluten free, the nurse couldn’t give me their crackers. I ended up ordering eggs from the hospital kitchen’s dedicated gf area, but really shouldn’t have eaten that much. I felt nauseous on the car ride home.
  • I recommend sticking this all in the car the night before


Tools to buy in advance:

There are a few tools that will make your recovery time much easier, especially when it comes to cooking and bathing. If you live alone, the cooking tools will be especially helpful.

  • *Front closing bra $15-40 – clipping in the back again takes a while… ladies will want a couple of these link
  • *Cleansing cloths $11 – these will help keep lady parts clean, since bathing every day is difficult link
  • *Long handled bathing brush $8 – definitely invest in one of these! link
  • *One-handed knife/cutting utensil $15 – I found this especially useful cutting bell peppers for eggs and other veggies one-handed link
  • *Mesh sling $12 – you can find this at walgreens or cvs and I just used it after the first week so I could wear a sling in the bathtub but not worry about it getting wet. Before I got this I was just trying not to get my ultrasling wet, using pillows in the tub to prop my arm up, but I hated the sensory weirdness when the sling got wet. Bonus – it’s good for your skin to get damp because the dead skin will collect faster than you think. link
  • *Dycem jar opener $12 – everyone should have one of these, injured or not! This makes opening every jar soo much easier. The dycem material is magic! link
  • Dycem non-slip material roll $39 – definitely a pricier item, but if you plan to cook alone this is essential. You can set bowls, plates, cups, etc on the mat and they won’t move link
  • Button hook $9 – I did not end up using mine, but if you have to go to work, or plan to wear button downs, it will help link or DIY here (these work almost as well as the real ones – and you probably already have the materials- spoon, paperclip, & tape).
  • Spray on deodorant. It’s tricky to get deodorant up in there.
  • Wash and rinse tray $26 – this is more a gift to the person helping wash your hair. If your surgery is in the summer months, you can stick with the hose outside, but for the colder seasons, this tray will help minimize spillage in the sink (as does a trashbag with a hole over the head). I didn’t use this much as I ended up taking baths and getting my hair washed at a salon a couple days a week for a while, but helpful the first couple weeks link
  • Reacher $17 – again, I didn’t use this much, but helpful for dizziness and bending to pick things up or reach overhead – especially if living alone link
  • Rounded eating plate $11 – this makes eating one-handed much easier link
  • Plastic plate guard $10 – again helps with eating off plates one handed. Universal size fits most plates link
  • Rolling travel bag – this is great if you need to carry multiple things, especially heavy ones, or travel after surgery, since backpacks don’t work well! link

*  = denotes the most essential items I highly recommend

It’s also a great idea to do some meal prep and freeze your favorites before going into surgery. Have the expectation that you will not be able to cook real meals for at least two weeks, so around 20-30 individually portioned dinners/lunches are a great idea. This may sound daunting, but usually a meal serves 4-6, so it’s really just between 4-6 full meals divided up into small tupperwares!


For some more ideas or pre-made shirts you can buy, check out my pinterest board for surgery.

Check back soon for my post on what to expect the day of surgery! (Update: find it here)

I am guessing you, or someone you know is having surgery and that is what lead you to my site. Please check out parts 2, and 3 plus how to make your own t-shirts on the rest of the blog! Thank you for stopping by, and best wishes, on your surgery and road to recovery. You will make it!


46 thoughts on “Shoulder Surgery Part 1: Preparing for Surgery

  1. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery Part 2: Day of Surgery | Rich with Life

  2. Thank you SO MUCH for these posts! I found your blog googling “women shoulder surgery” or something similar and these tips and ideas have been so helpful. I’m going in for my procedure on June 17, and this is making me feel much better about life post-op! 🙂


    • Thank you so much for posting this. I had rotator cuff surgery on the 22nd of February. I am lucky enough to have my husband here with me. He is a stay at home dad. He has been battling cancer and chrons disease for the last year. We just found out that he is cancer free. But he is doing all he can to make the transition from being able to doing everything for my family to not being able to do much. This post is very uplifting and an inspiration.


  3. Not sure if my other comment went through or is in moderation or what, but thank you SO SO much for these posts. I’m having my capsule tightened, too, from regular dislocations.


      • Thanks, Emily! I look forward to reading it! I hope you’ll outline your recovery time. I am really nervous it is going to take me FOREVER to recover. I take it you’re 100% now? 🙂


      • Sarah, I still don’t have full range of motion, but my PT and I feel that’s a good thing. One of the most important pieces to the puzzle is having a good PT who understands to take it slow. You don’t want to loosen all up again, especially too quickly. I will try and outline some details for you, but I was out of the sling around week 6. More to come!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much, Emily! I am really nervous because I am moving cross country around 11.5 weeks via three-week road trip. I should be able to do PT along the way, and as long as I can drive, I imagine I will be okay. My doc thinks I will be fine, but we’ll see. Feel free to email if you are willing and it is easier for you! scjorgensen at gmail. 🙂

        p.s. I just ordered a tie dye kit for t-shirts!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery: What to Wear | Rich with Life

  5. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery Part 3: Post-Op | Rich with Life

  6. So happy to have found this! I have the same issue– and I’ve never met anyone else who does! I have frequent sublaxations that have been increasing in frequency. We were doing an MRI, and prepping for surgery to tighten the joint. But the most recent MRI confirms a newly torn labrum due to all of the dislocations 😦 so they’re repairing that as well!! How are you doing now?!


    • I am good Hannah, thank you for asking! Overall, the surgery has made a big difference in my quality of life and level of pain. I’m so sorry to hear you are going through a similar situation, and especially to hear about the added labrum complication. I’m glad you found the site and please feel free to email or comment on here with any questions or anything that comes up. There are only so many of us “loosey-goosey” girls out there and even less who have this surgery so I am happy to be of support however possible! I hope they can take care of everything at once for you, and the process goes as quickly and smoothly as possible so you can get on the road to recovery! Gentle hugs being sent your way. ❤


  7. Pingback: Getting Ready for Shoulder Surgery – my shoulder recovery

  8. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery (aka Facing My Fears) | The Offbeat Report

  9. I know that I am not a woman, but good information is good information. I live alone and did not want to bother my family too much after surgery. I do not remember which blog post it was from, but I saw something about post surgical clothing here . I checked it out and was pleasantly surprised. In this article, you linked to some one handed kitchen utensils, which were also awesome. I bought a Top from when i was having my shoulder surgery and it was super helpful and the great thing is i still wear it after my surgery because it looks like a regular shirt. Thanks for taking the time to write this list out for people.


  10. This was great. I am getting the same (sort of) surgery in about a week, and I have been trying to prepare as much as possible. I LOVE the tshirt idea. They will be tightening my shoulder capsule with anchors drilled into my bone. I am having the same problem you had, except with full dislocations instead of subluxations. I will definitely be bookmarking your stuff to look at as needed while I’m getting ready for surgery!


  11. I have EDS too, but no one has suggested tightening the joint. I have two tendon tears, a labral tear and an osteophyte that needs to be removed. My surgery is in 3 weeks, and your blog, tips, comments are helpful. Thanks for them.

    How do they tighten the joint?


    • Hi Cary,
      There are multiple surgeries that could be performed – one being a capsular plication/nip & tuck. They can be done open or arthroscopically. I would recommend talking to your orthopedic surgeon to see if they are able to consider one for your specific situation. A second opinion is never a bad idea either, if you are looking to do a different or additional surgery. Hugs to you on your upcoming procedure and thank you for your comment!


  12. I read through your post before having shoulder surgery in May. I am having the same shoulder re-done this months and am finding myself reading through your posts again. This is #3 in shoulder surgery for me (same shoulder). You would think I am an expert after having gone through it twice, but one forgets. Thank you for writing down your experience. It definitely helps to prepare for it.


  13. Thank you so much for these posts! It’s nice to know that someone else has had capsular plication and has had success! I’m having mine done for multidirectional instability (also caused by EDS) tomorrow morning! I’m excited to be done with the pain and dislocations, but I’m nervous about the recovery for sure!


  14. Emily,

    Appreciate reading your thoughts on shoulder surgery, finding this is a blessing!

    I am having “Ac joint reconstruction with graft” on Tuesday and I am totally dreading it. Four weeks in an immobilizer sling and a couple months of PT. I live alone and the food thing is not going to be easy. Not sure I can make all those meals with the time I have left. I’m 64 and hope I can get through this..

    I don’t understand what the photo is of the three items, a roll with something blue on it and what looks to be a white bowl and something else.

    Thanks for this again, really awesome!


    • Hi Wyatt,
      Thanks for commenting! The photo you’re referring to has a roll of Dycem material which is sticky and helps things on the counter not slide so you can do things one handed. And the other two are a plate guard and a place with a rim on the edge- these help with eating one-handed because you can scoop food on the edge of the plate/bowl. The one is universal and attaches to many plates. The other is just a special plate made that way.
      Best wishes to you in your recovery. UberEATS/food delivery apps and sites along with easy heat-up food are your friend too- don’t feel intimidated by trying to cook everything! There is a lot to worry about so if you need to splurge on take-out food, I say go ahead.


      • That is very interesting Emily thanks, going to order some of the Dycem today. There is one big area of concern is icing. Living alone there is no way I can do the ice machine, how did you manage cold therapy? Uber eats sounds good too, great idea!


  15. Hey Emily!
    Thanks so much for these posts! They are such a blessing.
    I am getting surgery on February 15th to tighten up my shoulder joint (from frequent subluxation/dislocation) and fix my torn labrum.
    I am kinda scared, but it is comforting to know that others have done it and gotten through it!
    Thanks again, Rachel


    • Hugs to you, Rachel. I have faith you’ll see at least some pain relief (if you are having any) and it will hopefully he’ll reassure you of preventing damage to your brachial plexus. You will get through this! -E


      • Hi Emily,
        I am now almost 6 months post-op…and I recently re-injured my shoulder. It is now the same, if not worse, than before surgery. I am not sure if another surgery would be at all beneficial, or whether I should just try and deal with the pain. Do you have any thoughts or advice? Thank you so much!


      • Oh no, Rachel! I am so sorry to hear this. I really cannot advise you on this. But I would say to go with your gut and the advice of your orthopedic surgeon. Depending on the nature of your re-injury, pain level, potential for nerve damage, and likelihood of re-Injuring again, I am confident you will be able to make the right decision for you individually. But I can only imagine how hard that thought process will be. I can recommend following up with a therapist though (OT or PT) regarding pain management and discussion of options. Hugs!


  16. What a Sweetie you are for doing this Blog! I’m having Rotator Cuff surgery soon and I so wanted to figure out what kind of shirt to wear and bra…you answered everything so well.


  17. My husband is having shoulder surgery in 10 days. Thank you for putting together the list of essentials — we are purchasing them today!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you so much. I am about to go into my second shoulder surgery and was looking for a way to make it easier than the first. I think your articles were just what I needed. Thank you!


  19. I needed this like 10 weeks ago, wish i could have found it then but still a great find! I could not find much for shoulder stabilization surgery and had it 8 almost 9 weeks ago now. Naturally hyper mobile with swimming causing my shoulder to both be unstable but only one started to have subluxations and dislocate. We tried to wait until the summer time since I’m a college student but that didn’t happen it was just too bad and I didn’t recover between each one anymore. I went back to my college apartment 5 days post op with only my roommate around to help and a few weeks were rough! My shoulder was barely staying in place he said when he got in there so I was in the sling 6 weeks, started therapy at 4 weeks. Going above my head I’m getting a good amount of range of motion, but external rotation has been the struggle and I’m getting only about 35°. So thankful I’m on the flip side and especially thankful the sling has finally come off and I’m on the post op recovery side not just trying to survive and get through the weekly dislocations.


    • It sounds like you have been through quite the journey the last few months! More and more healing for you with each new day and I hope you find pain relief and that the surgery was worthwhile 💞


  20. I just had a total left shoulder replacement surgery in September . My only problem is the severe rashes I have, I think due to pain meds of Cipro and Percoset! How do I get rid of these?


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