Reverse total shoulder arthroplasty (RTSA) does not have a standard postoperative protocol. Although instability is a worrisome complication, prolonged immobilization may also be disabling in the elderly population. This study aimed to determine if early vs. delayed range of motion (ROM) after RTSA affected postoperative ROM, patient-reported outcomes, and the dislocation rate.

A single-blinded, randomized controlled trial was performed enrolling patients from 2013 to 2017. Patients were randomly assigned to either a delayed-rehabilitation group (no ROM for 6 weeks) or early-rehabilitation group (immediate physical therapy for passive and active ROM) and followed up for a minimum of 1 year. Demographic characteristics, ROM, American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES) scores, and complications were recorded.

Of an initial enrollment of 107 shoulders, 80.3% completed 1-year follow-up: 44 shoulders in the delayed-therapy group and 42 shoulders in the immediate-therapy group. Both groups had significantly improved forward flexion (32° improvement) and abduction (22° improvement) by 3 months. Both groups showed significant improvements in ASES scores by 6 weeks (9.4-point improvement in composite score) with continued improvement through 6 months (35.1 points). No significant differences were found between groups for any postoperative measure, with the exception of the ASES functional score favoring the delayed-therapy group at 6 months (26.3-point improvement vs. 16.7-point improvement). No differences in complications, notching, or narcotic use were noted between groups.

Both early- and delayed-ROM protocols after RTSA demonstrated significant, similar improvements in ROM and outcomes. Early initiation of postoperative rehabilitation may benefit the elderly population by avoiding the limitations of prolonged immobilization postoperatively.

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