How to Get Dressed and Undressed After Shoulder Surgery or Injury

Did you or someone you care for just have shoulder surgery? Are you struggling to figure out how to get dressed after shoulder surgery?

Or maybe you found out you need shoulder surgery and are trying to prepare for how you are going to get dressed.

While your body heals from surgeries such as a rotator cuff repair, you might not be able to move it, and dressing after shoulder surgery might be challenging.

Luckily, I’ve worked with a lot of shoulder surgeries and injuries over the years. I’ve prepared a few things you can wear and steps you can take to make getting dressed after shoulder surgery easier.

This post will provide details about how to dress and undress safely following shoulder surgery or injury requiring the immobilization of the shoulder joint. We’ll talk about equipment, techniques, and safety considerations to maximize your independence with the dressing process!

If you prefer a video how-to, please check out my video on my YouTube Channel!

Disclaimer: Always talk to your medical professional before deciding or changing the medical equipment that you utilize and how you should use it.

Please note: Before we begin, you need to make sure you follow all the instructions and warnings provided by the manufacturer.  The steps below are only to provide guidance with installing or assembling equipment, but you should always follow the warnings and instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Overview

  1. Products
    1. Juvo Dressing Stick
    2. Sling Shirt (Open Shoulder Design)
    3. Button Tool
    4. Standard Dressing Stick
  2. What to Wear After Shoulder Surgery
  3. What to Wear If You Cannot Remove Your Arm From the Sling
  4. Equipment Needed for Dressing
  5. How to Undress After Shoulder Surgery
  6. How to get Dressed After Shoulder Surgery

Products

Juvo Dressing Stick

Juvo Dressing Stick laying horizontally. The stick is white and light blue with a shoe horn on one end and a "S"-style hook design on the other.

Sling Shirt (Open Shoulder Design)

A front-view of a gray t-shirt. The sleeves have snaps running along the shoulders and there are white strings showing above the shoulders.

Button Tool

A close-up of a gray button tool. The tool has blue letters "RMS" printed on it

Standard Dressing Stick

A long wooden dressing stick is shown with a hook on on end and an "S"-shaped design on the other. A measurement shows the stick is 27 inches long. The words "Extended Reach - Simplifies dressing and undressing" are shown

What To Wear After Shoulder Surgery

Let’s start with something that will make dressing after shoulder surgery much easier…what to wear after shoulder surgery. Loose, stretchy, comfortable clothing will be the key when dressing after shoulder surgery. This advice may seem simple, but you would be amazed how often we overlook these simple things. You may want to take a look through your closet and see if that favorite shirt of yours is actually loose-fitting.

Don’t forget to check different articles as well. Even things like socks are essential to think about when recovering from shoulder surgery. All forms of clothing should be loose-fitting, have a few buttons/zips/snaps, and have elastic. Planning to wear this type of clothing up-front will make the energy and time required for getting dressed after should surgery much less.

What To Wear If You Cannot Remove Your Arm From Sling

If a physician tells you that you are not allowed to remove a sling, removing your clothes will be very difficult, but not impossible.

In these cases, you might consider buying modified clothing.

A front-view of a gray t-shirt. The sleeves have snaps running along the shoulders and there are white strings showing above the shoulders.
An example of modified clothing. This shirt has shoulders that can be opened to make removing it easier.

Modified clothes, such as the example above, will have an open shoulder that will allow you to dress without ever removing the sling from your body. While still not a wide selection, modified clothes are available from online shops like Amazon and makers on Etsy. I have known some people to make or modify their own clothing as well.

Equipment Needed For Dressing After Shoulder Surgery

Aside from clothing, there are a few pieces of equipment that can be helpful in getting dressed after shoulder surgery. For most people, the most helpful tool is a dressing stick. If you know me, you know I love the Juvo dressing stick. Among its many delightful details, I love that it has a shoe horn on one end as well as a hook with sticky rubber on the other end.

Juvo Dressing Stick laying horizontally. The stick is white and light blue with a shoe horn on one end and a "S"-style hook design on the other.
The Juvo Dressing is a popular dressing stick option and probably my favorite.

But the Juvo is not the only dressing stick in this category. There’s another dressing stick option that is more like a wooden dowel with a rubber grips at one end.

A long wooden dressing stick is shown with a hook on on end and an "S"-shaped design on the other. A measurement shows the stick is 27 inches long. The words "Extended Reach - Simplifies dressing and undressing" are shown

Why Use a Dressing Stick after Shoulder Surgery?

You may be asking this very question and it’s a fair one. Dressing sticks can be very helpful when putting on clothing like jackets, sweaters, etc. Dressing sticks can provide extended reach and prevent overuse of your non-surgically repaired or injured side.

If you are going to be in a recovery position for a long time and need to be able to return to work where a button-down shirt is required, you may also need a one-handed buttoning tool. Buttoning tools are low-cost and can be helpful if you need to button a shirt or blouse following shoulder surgery.

How to Remove an Arm Sling After Shoulder Surgery

OK, let’s say that you can remove your arm sling, how do you do that safely?

Before you begin to take off clothes after shoulder surgery make a mental note of the position of your arm. Feel where the hand of your injured or repaired arm is. You’ll want to keep it there the entire time you are getting undressed. What we are trying to do is make sure your surgically-repaired shoulder does not move throughout the entire process.

Note: Having a mirror in front of you while performing this task can help you monitor the position of your hand, arm, and shoulder throughout this entire process.

The first step is un-velcro the shoulder support strap and take it out of the loop and remove it from your shoulder. If your sling has a waist support, you’ll need to un-velcro and remove that as well.

A woman is sitting up on the edge of a bed. Her left arm is in a sling and she is removing the shoulder strap with her right hand.

Then, keeping your injured arm still and in the same position, use your uninjured hand to remove the sling from your injured arm.

A woman is sitting up on the edge of a bed. Her left arm is in a sling and she is removing her sling from her left wrist with her right hand.

How To Undress After Shoulder Surgery

OK, you’ve got the sling off. Now, how do you undress the rest of the way? Like remove a shirt or sweater?

Well, there’s a couple of different ways depending on the type of clothing.

For example, if I’m wearing a loose-fitting sweater with no buttons or zippers fastened, I’ll remove it from my non-injured shoulder first, like the example below.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed with gray sweater has her left arm across her abdomen and right arm behind her removing the sweater

Then, using my non-injured arm, I’ll remove the sweater from the other shoulder, maneuvering it down to my elbow.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. There is a sweater on the arm on her abdomen. The sweater is only on up to her elbow.

I’ll pull the cuff by my wrist and pull the rest of the sweater off.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. She is removing a sweater from her wrist on the arm that is across her abdomen.

Removing a t-shirt can be much more difficult, but the process can still be completed safely. First, you’ll maneuver the bottom of the shirt up to your abdomen to a point above your injured wrist area.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. In her right hand, she has her shirt and she is bunching it up above her left arm which is across her abdomen.

You’ll try to bunch the shirt just under your chest and above your stomach. This should allow you to perform the next step, removing the shirt from above. I like to remove t-shirts is to grabbing the back of the collar and pull directly up, over my head. Since the material is bunched above my injured arm/wrist, there is plenty of slack to pull the shirt up over my head.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. With her right arm above her head, she is grabbing the back of her shirt by the collar with her right hand.
Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. With her right arm above her head, she is pulling a t-shirt off over her head with her right hand on the back of the collar.

Finally, I need to slide the short off the shoulder, down around the injured arm, and off.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. With her right arm, she is pulling a t-shirt off of her left arm.

How to Get Dressed After Shoulder Surgery

To get dressed, we’re going to choose loose, stretchy clothing. In this case, my t-shirt is soft and stretchy. The first step is to lay the shirt down on your lap in the correct orientation. This step prevents getting the shirt twisted while putting it on, which can be dangerous.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. Across her lap is a t-shirt with the top or collar of the t-shirt away from her.

In its flat position, I’ll bunch the shirt starting from the bottom up to the sleeve of my injured arm.

Close-up of right hand. The hand is holding a bunched up t-shirt showing an arm hole.

I’ll thread my injured arm through the sleeve I bunched up to the shoulder.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. With her right hand, she is pushing a bunched-up sleeve of a t-shirt up her left arm which is across her abdomen.
Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. With her right hand, she is pushing a bunched-up sleeve of a t-shirt up her left arm which is across her abdomen.

Next, I’ll find the neck hole and place that over my head. Again, having a stretchy shirt is helpful here.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. She is putting a t-shirt. Her left arm is through and the shirt is on her left shoulder and with her right hand, she is pulling the t-shirt over her head.

After that, I’ll put my non-injured arm into the shirt and get the shirt into its proper place around my shoulders. The final step is to gently pull the shirt down my abdomen, under my injured arm, and finish the process.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. She is putting a t-shirt. Her head and left arm is through and she is reaching her right arm through the sleeve.

Adding an over shirt or sweater is a similar process, but for this, I’ll use a dressing stick. We’ll start the same way, laying the sweater on my lap. I’ll bunch the sleeve up for my injured arm first and slide my arm through the sleeve.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. She is putting a sweater. Her right arm is pulling a sweater up to her left shoulder. The sweater is on her left arm that is across her abdomen.

Once my sleeve is on my arm, I’ll fold the sweater back in front of me, hook the dressing stick into the shoulder of my sweater and maneuver it behind my back, so I can place my arm into the sweater as I typically would.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. She is putting a sweater and the sweater is on her left arm. Her right arm is holding a dressing stick. On the end of the hook of the dressing stick, she has caught the other sleeve of the sweater.
Close-up of a woman. She has a sweater on her left shoulder and a dressing stick is pulling the other side of the sweater over her right shoulder.

The final step is to reapply your sling. Be gentle and follow the sling instructions and you’ll be all set!

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed has her left arm across her abdomen. She has a sweater on and with her right hand is putting a sling on her left arm.

*all prices are at the time of publishing

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