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Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service

Physio advice for acute shoulder injuries

Physiotherapy advice for acute shoulder injuries and after surgery

You may find this general information useful for helping your child to manage at home and school while their shoulder is healing after injury or planned surgery. Ask your physiotherapist or surgeon any questions about your specific situation.

Going home

  • When travelling in a car, have your child sit on the side of the car that allows the seatbelt to cross their ‘good’ shoulder so that they are more comfortable. If they are in the front seat, they can recline it for longer trips.
  • When sitting for long periods, such as in a car or at school, your child may be more comfortable with a pillow or cushion under their forearm supporting the weight of their arm.
  • For the first week or so after surgery, your child may be more comfortable sleeping with their head and shoulders higher than the rest of their body. You could try using more pillows (including a ‘boomerang’ pillow) under their shoulder and head, raising the head of their bed by putting pillows underneath the mattress, or sleeping in a recliner armchair.
  • Pay extra attention to your child’s posture while they are recovering from their surgery as they will probably slouch more when their arm is in a sling and you are not using it for everyday activities.

Everyday activities

  • Think about how your child will do activities that require one hand only (e.g. cleaning teeth) or both hands (e.g. washing hair), and whether you or someone at home can help you with things like showering and dressing.
  • Your child will need to keep the wound dry for the first two weeks. Depending on their age, your or they can angle the water in the shower to wash the rest of their body while keeping their affected arm dry. They can then clean their affected arm and armpit with a wet cloth, leaning forward from their waist to reach their armpit more easily.
  • Button-up shirts or singlets are the easiest for your child to put on and remove. They could even wear the shirt on the outside of your arm and sling to start with. When they are allowed enough arm movement to get their arm through a sleeve, it will be most comfortable for them to slide their affected arm through the sleeve first and then continue dressing.
  • If your child normally wears a bra, they might want to try a tube top or strapless bra, cutting the strap on a singlet top or wearing a halter bikini top instead, as putting on a bra may be difficult.

Returning to school and recreational activities

  • If your child usually rides a bike to school, they will not be able to do so until they have recovered from their injury. It may also be difficult for them to catch public transport during the early healing period.
  • At school, your child will not be able to use a backpack that has straps over both shoulders. Consider getting them a bag with a single strap or even a wheelie suitcase.
  • Your child must take extra care not to fall over while recovering from their surgery. Remove any potential hazards, such as rugs or floor clutter, and advise your child to take extra care on uneven ground and wet floor surfaces, in crowds or outdoors, and at night.
  • Talk to your surgeon about when your child can return to sport and recreation, playing musical instruments, part-time work or driving.

Other factors your physiotherapist will consider before child goes home:

  • What type of sling your child is wearing and whether it fits them properly.
  • If your child is allowed to take their sling off for activities like showering or exercise and if they need to be taught how to do this.
  • If your child is able to comfortably and easily get in and out of a bed, a car or a chair.
  • Whether your child will need to do exercises for their neck, elbow, forearm, wrist and hand so they do not get stiff while their shoulder is healing.

Exercises at home

These are general exercises for early shoulder rehabilitation, so please ask your child’s doctor and physiotherapist which exercises are suitable. Your child might experience mild discomfort during and soon after exercise, but if they are experiencing pain they should stop that exercise and ask their physiotherapist for advice.

Repeat each exercise 10 times, twice a day.

  1. Scapular retraction (Posture correction)
    Stand up straight with arms resting comfortably and thumbs pointing outwards then slowly draw the shoulder blades together toward the spine and slightly downwards. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and then relax.
  1. Neck, elbow and wrist mobility
    To avoid stiffness in the neck, elbow, wrist and hand, move them all in all possible directions while keeping the shoulders still and relaxed.
  1. Hand squeeze
    Make a fist and gently squeeze. Hold 5-10 seconds then release. Alternatively, squeeze a ball.

Contact us

Physiotherapy Department
Level 6, Allied Health Outpatients (6a), Queensland Children’s Hospital,
501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane, 4101
t: 07 3068 2850

Resource No. FS300. Developed by Physiotherapy Department, Queensland Children’s Hospital. Updated: December 2017. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.