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How long do you miss work for rotator cuff surgery?

Rotator cuff surgery is a common procedure done to repair tears in the rotator cuff muscles and tendons in the shoulder. Recovery timelines vary depending on the type of tear, surgical technique, and the patient’s overall health. Most patients can expect to take significant time off work to recover from rotator cuff surgery.

Quick Answers

Here are some quick answers to common questions about time off work for rotator cuff surgery:

  • For small rotator cuff tears, patients may return to sedentary/deskwork jobs within 1-2 weeks.
  • For larger rotator cuff tears, patients may need 6-12 weeks off work, sometimes longer.
  • Patients in manual labor positions may need 3-6 months off work after rotator cuff surgery.
  • Your surgeon will provide customized recommendations based on your tear size, type of work, and rate of recovery.
  • Most patients can return to driving 1-2 weeks after surgery if it is their non-dominant shoulder.

Recovery Timeline

The typical recovery timeline and return to work recommendations after rotator cuff surgery are:

Phase Timeline Return to Work Status
1 0-6 weeks Off work for sling immobilization and physical therapy.
2 6-12 weeks May return to sedentary/deskwork jobs.
3 3-6 months Gradual return to manual labor as shoulder function improves.

As shown in the table, the first 6 weeks after rotator cuff surgery involves significant activity restrictions and recovery. Most patients will need to take a full leave of absence during this period. After 6 weeks, light deskwork may be possible depending on the demands of your job. Manual labor and overhead reaching is restricted for 3-6 months after surgery as the rotator cuff heals.

Factors Affecting Time Off Work

Several factors affect how long you will need to take off work after rotator cuff surgery:

  • Type of rotator cuff tear – Small or partial thickness tears may require less time off work than large or full thickness tears.
  • Job duties – Physical, manual labor jobs require more time off than sedentary desk jobs.
  • Surgical technique – More complex repairs take longer to heal than simple rotator cuff repairs.
  • Age and health status – Younger, healthier patients may recover quicker than older patients.
  • Work accommodation – Some employers can accommodate temporary restrictions.

Ultimately your surgeon will determine when you can safely return to work based on the severity of your injury, limitations after surgery, and the type of work you do. Communicate your job duties clearly so they can provide appropriate recommendations.

1-2 Weeks Off Work

Taking 1-2 weeks off work is only realistic for patients with very minor rotator cuff tears who have sedentary jobs. Small degenerative tendon tears may occasionally fall into this category. Even with a minor tear, you will still have significant activity restrictions when you return to work in the early postoperative period.

Here are some tips for returning to sedentary work within 1-2 weeks of rotator cuff surgery:

  • Communicate with your employer about temporary restrictions.
  • Plan to work shorter days and take frequent breaks as you recover.
  • Modify your workspace to avoid prolonged reaching or overhead motions.
  • Take pain medication as needed to manage discomfort.
  • Continue your physical therapy exercises on off hours.

While fast return to work is appealing, it does risk slowing your recovery if you overexert your shoulder too soon after surgery. Careful workplace modifications and limitations are necessary in the first 1-2 months.

Is 1-2 Weeks Enough Time Off?

For most rotator cuff repairs, 1-2 weeks is not enough time off work. Even simple techniques like debridement and arthroscopic repair require a longer protected recovery period. Returning to work too soon can jeopardize the surgical repair before adequate healing occurs.

Your surgeon will determine if your rotator cuff injury is minor enough to allow an early 1-2 week return to sedentary work. If you have a larger tear or physical job duties, plan for a longer recovery timeline before attempting to return to work.

6-12 Weeks Off Work

Taking 6-12 weeks off work is a typical recovery timeline for many rotator cuff repair patients. This allows time for surgical incisions to heal, shoulder immobilization, and the start of physical therapy.

Here are some tips for taking 6-12 weeks off after rotator cuff surgery:

  • Check if disability insurance or FMLA can compensate for missed work.
  • Plan financially for an unpaid leave of absence.
  • Communicate timeline expectations with your manager.
  • Focus fully on surgery recovery during the time off.
  • Return to light deskwork around 6-8 weeks if able.
  • Delay full-duty return to 12 weeks for more physical jobs.

The 6-12 week recovery period allows the rotator cuff tendon to heal enough for light daily activities. Your shoulder mobility and strength will still be limited compared to pre-surgery levels when you return to work.

Is 6-12 Weeks Off Work Required?

Many surgeons recommend taking 6-12 weeks off work after rotator cuff surgery. However, the exact length of time off will depend on several factors:

  • Size and severity of the rotator cuff tear
  • Complexity of the surgical repair technique used
  • Type of post-surgical immobilization protocol
  • Your functional demands and duties at work
  • Healing rate and engagement with physical therapy

Talk to your orthopedic surgeon about how these factors relate to your specific rotator cuff injury and expected postoperative recovery. The ideal length of time off work will be determined based on your individual case.

3-6 Months Off Work

Patients with large rotator cuff tears, laborers in physically demanding jobs, and those with complex multipurpose repairs may need to take 3-6 months off work after surgery. This extended recovery period allows the tendon to heal and build strength.

Here are some tips for taking 3-6 months off work after rotator cuff surgery:

  • Apply for short-term disability benefits for compensation.
  • Save money in advance to cover extended time without income.
  • Plan to return to work gradually with restrictions.
  • Schedule regular physical therapy for maximum healing.
  • Communicate with workplace contacts about your tentative return date.

Physically demanding jobs like construction, stocking and lifting, and patient care may not be possible until at least 3 months post-surgery. Take advantage of the extra healing time to rebuild shoulder strength for a durable recovery.

When is a 3-6 Month Absence Necessary?

Taking 3-6 months off work is usually only necessary with extensive rotator cuff damage, labor-intensive jobs, or complex surgery. Factors that may warrant a longer recovery period include:

  • Massive or full-thickness rotator cuff tears
  • Tears involving multiple tendons
  • Revision surgery for failed previous cuff repairs
  • Manual jobs requiring heavy lifting or overhead motions
  • Older patients with weaker tendon tissue
  • Combined procedures like biceps tenodesis

Your surgeon will determine if you meet the criteria for an extended 3-6 month rehabilitation period based on your condition and procedure details. Follow their timeline recommendations closely for optimal recovery.


The duration of time off work needed after rotator cuff surgery varies widely based on the severity of damage, complexity of repair, and physical demands of your occupation. Small tears may require only 1-2 weeks off, while large tears or labor jobs may need 3-6 months away. Most patients can expect a 6-12 week absence for adequate rehabilitation and healing.

Communicate with your orthopedic surgeon so they can provide customized time off work recommendations. Following an appropriate recovery period helps ensure your rotator cuff repair can successfully return your shoulder to full function. With proper rest and rehabilitation, you can get back to occupational and recreational activities after rotator cuff surgery.