How to dress after rotator cuff surgery

Updated May 10, 2017

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles inside your shoulder joint. These muscles are responsible for lifting your arms over your head, and moving them up and down. Rotator cuff surgery is typically needed after an injury or accident. Young patients sometimes have surgery from overuse of the muscles, while older patients have surgery to repair tears in the tendons that connect the muscles. Recovery from this type of surgery can take about six months. It will only be during the first six to 10 weeks of recovery that dressing could be challenging.

Wear button-up shirts. You'll be wearing a sling for about six to eight weeks following surgery. Though your doctor will want you to perform passive exercises at this time, attempting to navigate your arm through a shirtsleeve will not be one of them. Insert your good arm into the sleeve and drape the shirt snugly over your injured shoulder. Snaps, versus buttonholes and zippers, are optimal since they can easily be snapped and unsnapped with one hand. Or avoid buttons and snaps altogether; wear a large sweatshirt or hoodie.

Pull a large sweatshirt over your head. Use your good arm to pull it down to your waist. Insert your good arm and leave your recovering arm beneath the shirt.

Wear tank tops. Having an empty long sleeve swinging about, or wearing a button-up shirt cloak style, may be uncomfortable or annoying. Buy a tank top with large armholes. Get a top three or four sizes larger than you would typically wear.

First pull the shirt over your head with your good arm and stretch it as close to elbow-level as possible. Hold the tank top by the bottom of the armhole of your healing arm. Manoeuvre the hole around your arm rather than manoeuvring your arm into the hole. When it is firmly around your arm and over your shoulder, put your good arm through the other hole.

Wear sweatpants with an elastic band. Even once your arm is out of the sling, pulling up, buttoning and zippering your jeans could be painful.

Wear flip-flops, slip-ons or shoes with Velcro. If you're flexible, you may find that you have no problem bringing your foot close enough to easily reach and tie with both hands. But just after your surgery, when you're still sore, it'll be easier to just slip your foot into a shoe that doesn't need to be tied.


For women, forget your vanity. It's no time for wearing cute underwear or bras. Wear baggy undergarments that you can easily get into with one hand. And if you must wear a bra, wear a baggy sports bra without clips. You may still have difficulty getting it on, however.


Using your arm too much during recovery can cause pain, tear sutures, or stress your injury.

Things You'll Need

  • Snap-front shirt
  • Sweatshirt
  • Tank top
  • Elastic waistband trousers
  • Slip-on shoes or flip-flops
  • Sport bra if desired
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About the Author

Shannon Marks started her journalism career in 1994. She was a reporter at the "Beachcomber" in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and contributed to "Philadelphia Weekly." Marks also served as a research editor, reporter and contributing writer at lifestyle, travel and entertainment magazines in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Temple University.