Here we go again, a blast back to 2013/2014. Another shoulder surgery! This time on the other side.
I had some shoulder instability and general weirdness starting around September 2020.
I think I might have pushed it over the edge doing PVC overhead squats. One of the things I would do to prevent injury! I think I might have dropped down into the squat too quickly before my shoulders were warm and loose enough. I felt a pop, but nothing painful. I could have also done it doing a rockstar yoga pose or crab. Both times I felt a pop. I’m no doctor, but I also could have been doing it progressively over the years, then these events just pushed it over the edge.
The first time I detected something was off with my right shoulder back in 2013/2014, I had dull pain after exercise. This time it felt similar, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I was able to calm it down in October, November, and December, but then after a a couple workouts and long surf session in January, I was in throbbing pain all night afterwards and into the next day.
I went to my orthopedic doctor for the manual tests, then as expected, he called for an arthrogram MRI with contrast. (Which is literally the worst thing ever. They basically put dye in your joint so they can see a tear.) And there it was: another SLAP tear.
Initially, pre-COVID, I was planning to go to Hawaii in the spring (March), then look to figure things out in April if I wanted to go through the surgical process again when I got back. But as the weeks went by, the injury seemed to be nagging more and more. I decided to just bite the bullet and get it done ASAP.
I struggled greatly with this because everyday life isn’t too inhibited with the exception of a few little tweaks. If I did something quickly, like grab the dog before it jumps up on me, or reach way behind the back to put my jacket or backpack on, it would be shooting pain. During workouts, certain movements would be completely unstable and weak.
Just like the first time, I battled with the fact that people do live with this and work around it.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t responding to any conservative PT exercise, and I can’t imagine living with the amount of pain I was having after a surf.
I knew I’d be looking at least 3, 4, or more months of recovery. The remainder of March, April, May, and June if it’s all positive. I’ll have the majority of summer to get back to serious training so I’m unbreakable for fall when the surf picks back up. Continue on below for the full log.
THE PROCESS I EXPECTED
- 4-6 weeks in a sling
- PT begins immediately (starts with passive stretch, then active stretch, then strength)
- Running can begin around week 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10
This was my immediate plan once I decided I was going to get surgery:
- Going to be messed up a few days. Take the opportunity to digital detox.
- Can’t run or lift for a while. Purchase a stationary bike and ride for 30-60 mins daily.
- Use this opportunity to focus on my mental strength. Try performing 5-10 min of meditation or box breathing everyday.
- Activity levels will be lower than normal, so food consumption should be too.
- Start making out the workout plan for the return.
- Purchase resistance bands for once strength begins.
- Stock up on the supplements (even though it’s an itty bitty sliver part of the battle). I go with glucosamine, chondroitin, fish oil, collagen, DHEA, creatine + beta-tested a cannabinoid cream by Mab & Stoke (and obviously protein)
- Start doing 20 minutes of core 3x a week as soon as possible
Entry 2: DAY BEFORE (Sunday)
I was incredibly scared, anxious, and couldn’t sleep at night. I remember the struggle and the pain last time. It’s rough. I prepped the house. Got my waters, coconut waters, and the ice machine.
Entry 3: DAY OF (Monday)
I was borderline panic attack going into the surgery center. I almost even considered walking out when I got there. I had to convince myself I made an informed decision and that I knew I was hurt and would regret not fixing it. I committed.
Initially, the pain was minor due to the nerve block except for under my arm immediately post-op because the block doesn’t work there. I’m anxious for tomorrow when that wears off, but we will get through.
I’m going in with a good battle plan: stay ahead of the pain with pain pills and loads of water because those narcotics are garbage.
Entry 4: DAY AFTER (Tuesday)
Lots of pain, but stayed ahead of it with pills. However, disaster ensued as I woke up at 2AM with violent stomach pains and sweats. Lets just say I hadn’t been able to use the bathroom for days. I rolled around the floor, nauseous, sweating for 3-4 hours until a laxative finally kicked in. Top 3 most sick I’ve been in life. Thank you pain pills.
Entry 5: TWO DAYS AFTER (Wednesday)
Did not even think of touching a pain pill since Tuesday night’s episode. I went Tylenol only. Pain sucked, but I managed. I spent much of the day pretty beat up. Pounding water and tea, and watching random Netflix documentaries to nod me off to sleep.
Entry 6: First PT session (Thursday)
Still wasn’t feeling myself, but way better after a shower. I took my sling off, but wanted to pass out. Tried to get as much stink off me as I could. I had my first PT session with my therapist going back to my high school baseball days. She helped bring me back last go around. She moved me a little just to eliminate any stiffness. She’ll do all the work for the next four weeks before I do anything at all.
Entry 7: Exactly 1 Week Later / Start of Week 2
Sleep At Last! Monday, exactly 7 days post-op was almost a completely pain-free day. Sunday night was the first time I slept right through.
Entry 8: First Post-Op appointment + second PT session (Tuesday)
This week I met with my doctor for my first post-op follow-up to get the full download from him on what we did and how it went down.
Fortunately for me this tear was slightly less severe than the one I had on my right side back in 2014, but he did say it probably would have gotten there in the next 4 – 6 months. Us getting ahead of it a bit could have saved me from an even more extensive surgery down the line. What’s interesting to me is that this injury was giving me more pain than the last one. I thought it was worse. He reminded me of the process, about 4 weeks in the sling (2 more to go), my PT does all of my stretching for the first 4 weeks, then I take over with stretching only 2x per week for another 4 weeks or so, then we get into some very, very light strengthening another 4 weeks later.
The second PT session was also positive, my range of motion was very good for where I was in the process. My PT pressed me a little further this time around so I did feel some discomfort, but it’s necessary.
Entry 9: End of Week 2
Overall, week 2 wasn’t so bad. Sleep has been better, but not great. I still find myself waking up in the middle of the night with some pain. I’ve gotten myself on the stationary bike every day for 30 – 60 minutes. I’m also doing a series of banded exercises for my right shoulder to keep things strong while the other heals. I’m not a huge fan of the bike, but once I get going in about 10 minutes, I start to build up a sweat and get feeling good. I honestly believe that when you have an injury you’re recovering from you absolutely need to still find a way to get 30 – 60 minutes of sweating it. Get the heart going, circulation, breathing, etc. Not only for staying in physical shape, but maintaining a healthy dose of those endorphins.
This week I also got some acupuncture done. My right shoulder is a little icky from time to time, I think from doing compensation stuff, then of course, the left. I’m not sure whether it will do much, if anything at all, but I’m open to exploring different things. I believe there’s something to it. All in all, good week from a recovery perspective. Can’t wait to get out of this sling, two more weeks to go.
Entry 10: End of Week 3
Removal of the sling is in sight… I hope.
Still waking up in the morning with pain.
We bumped up therapy to 2 days per week because my first day was super tight. My second day was looser, but started to remember how much it hurts being stretched out.
I’ve been hopping on the bike consistently to keep my cardio up. I’ve also been doing mobility and strength on the right side. Why? Well, there is a term “cross-education.” What this means is that training the uninjured side can help maintain strength on the injured side. Kind of hard to believe, right? But there’s research to back it up which I’ve dropped below with some notes.
In the meantime, I restocked my supplements, will start going back to infrared sauna soon, continuing acupuncture, and just trying to stay positive and look forward to getting back to working out, fishing, and surfing.
I’m excited for next week as I’ll be able to begin using the pulley to help increase my range of motion. Then hopefully the following week I can take this sling off.
As for the cross-education stuff I mentioned above, here is some interesting research:
Check out this 2018 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. 16 participants. 3x per week for 4 weeks. Conclusion: Unilateral strength training preserves strength, muscle thickness, and muscle cross-sectional area in an opposite immobilized limb.
Or this 2014 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training. 18 participants, 3x per week for 8 weeks. Conclusion: Exercising with eccentric actions resulted in mode-specific and velocity-specific gains in quadriceps strength in the unexercised limb.
Or, check out this research conducted for The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences. 10 males, 10 females. 10 weeks of training one side. Conclusion: The maximal strength in the untrained leg was not significantly altered by the detraining period and a significant increase of muscle thickness could be seen in the untrained leg.
Entry 10: End of Week 4
First session of week 4 marked the start of active assisted exercise. I used a stability ball and rolled it out in front of my body with my good arm leading. Very difficult at first. Then I used the pully to pull my arm up. First few reps were rough. Then I did external rotations with the stick. Then I laid on my back and pulled my arm up and overhead (not very far). Then I did shoulder circles.
I was instructed to do this twice per day every day. Shoulder circles are three times per day.
Second session that week, I used the wheel to roll my hands up the wall. The pulley. Externals. Overhead with the bar this time instead of with my own arm. Then I had to interlock my hands and place them on my head for 3 minutes. So now I have two new exercises at home.
Hands on kitchen table
Both hands up the wall
Laying bar overhead
Lying hands on face (3 min)
I’m feeling positive, but still can’t believe how much it aches and hurts at times. I’m hopeful I have a great weekend and start of week 5. I see doctor again next Tuesday. That would be one day into week 5.
Entry 11: Start of Week 5 Visit with my surgeon
My visit with my surgeon was a positive one. Progress with the range of motion has been coming along well. I’m not quite sure if it’s been faster or better than the last time around, but all is on schedule. He said we would be intensifying the therapy, meaning we’d be adding some more exercises to get that range of motion back. No more sling! Funny, last time I felt I was super excited to get rid of it, this time around I miss the sense of protection.
Entry 12: End of Week 5
As expected, week 5 started with more work in therapy. I started using the arm crank a bit and we added at least 3 or 4 exercises and jumbled up the sequencing of them. It felt really good to get moving a bit, but was very sore all week long. I’d go periods of the day perfectly fine, but then this dull ache would just nag for a bit before going away. What’s interesting about week 5 has been that I’ve seen good progress, but it’s also been one of the more difficult weeks too. My therapist has really been pressing my range of motion! Obviously she’s safe and careful, but needs to nudge things to get me moving. What’s been a little more tough about week 5 is that there are other professional things happening in my life so stress is higher than usual (which is high anyway, lol)
Entry 13: End of Week 6
Week 6 was good overall. I’ve been functioning a lot better with basic things like cooking, cleaning, putting my clothes on. My range of motion continues to slowly improve. I added a few more exercises in the mix, a stretch across my body and out to the side with the help of my war bar (PVC pipe).
One negative from this week was the excruciatingly painful PT session I had on Wednesday of the week. She had to really press my range on overhead, externals, and internals. I literally was on the verge of crying. I don’t remember this from last time, but it was gut-wrenching. However, when it was over I felt pretty good once the pain subsided.
For the most part, during the day I feel pretty good, but there are moments of quick jabs, or dull aches. I’m hopeful that starts to fade more and more. I have been much more aggressive with PT so it makes sense.
Hopefully I can start running soon. Last time it was week 6. We also haven’t started any strength yet.
Entry 14: End of Week 7
Week 7 had its ups and downs. Here’s the good: I’m noticing the range of motion improve on a lot of my movements. I told a friend I was about 90% there when going overhead, about 80% out to the side, and maybe 60% when I put my arm behind my back. The behind the backs are rough. Internal rotation and external rotation is slower than the others, as expected. I also did my first true strength move in PT, a seated row. It was good to move a little weight. Even though it was 1 pound. I’m anticipating more strength exercises in the coming week, but it was good to start something. At home I also squeezed in a good little shoulder and arm workout on the healthy side.
The other positive was that I went into my local gym and did some light leg work over the weekend:
It feels good to at least start moving toward normalcy again. The only real downside of this week has been the achiness. I’m really stretching this thing out to get that range of motion back and it really can be sore afterwards. When I went into PT all this week, it was really rough getting stretched out. It’s also been a bit tough on my mind. According to my documentation from last time, I had already been running a little at the end of week 6. Oh well, we’ll get there. Trying to keep the mindset positive.
Entry 15: End of Week 8
More strength was added this week. In addition to the rows, I did lat pull downs and internal and external rotations.
I was very achy the last couple days of this week. I think partially because I’m really pressing the stretches. Early in the week I noticed I’m just about 100% overhead range of motion when I walk my hands up the wall. Getting close to the side. Everything else is a little slower going but still inching forward.
I’ve been doing a ton more work on the bike and hitting some good leg workouts again. Mostly leg curls and extensions, but have been doing squats, lunges, and lateral lunges too.
Progress was certainly made, but in all honesty, it’s a battle against the aches and pains. I feel like it’s a lot more achy this time around. It’s definitely tough, but I’ve got to be tougher. I’m confident we’ll get there.
Entry 16: End of Week 9
Week 9 was a very positive one. I started the week with clearance to begin running. That’s great news. While I’ve been hitting it hard on the stationary bike, a few good runs are needed. I even contemplated throwing my wetsuit on to get acclimated a little bit. Not even to go in the water, but to suit up and feel it again. Hard to believe I haven’t surfed in 4 months. Very eager to get back to it and have a solid season ahead.
I added more strength training this week. We added curls early in the week, then added more light dumbbell work in my second session.
I saw the doc again this week too. In addition to running, I’m good to go fishing again. Still a ways until I can surf because I’ve still got range of motion to regain. And there’s still plenty of lingering pain and achiness, although it has ever so slightly been improving.
Staying positive. Trusting the process, even though I admit that doubt creeps in. Ultimately it will all be good.
Entry 17: End of Week 10
Another positive week in the books. The first time around I believed that the true turning point in the process was around week 7 or week 8. That’s when I felt like I saw a big increase in range of motion and less pain. This time around it was here in week 10. While my range of motion is still not where it needs to be, it can really start to see it coming around. I’m also using the shoulder even more for everyday life stuff and it didn’t bother me as much. For example, the first time I went fishing in the previous week it felt a little weird and achy. Now it doesn’t bother me at all unless I put it in a really weird position.
I’m also running more, riding the bike outside, and looking forward to getting stronger and stronger. The only negative to week 10 was that this was one of the first times I had to watch the surf from the sidelines and got sad. Much of the spring season was pretty bad, so I didn’t miss much, but there has been a little run of swell lately that I obviously missed. All good. We’re getting there.
Entry 18: End of Week 11
Very positive week again. After next week, my PT sessions will be down to once per week, however, I still have a lot more to do. My range of motion and strength still have a bit to go. We’re getting close to the final stretch.
Last time around, at this point I significantly slowed down on the documenting each week.
I think the same thing is happening now. I’m mentally ready to get back to my regular life, even though I’m not physically prepared.
I don’t have full range, I still have weakness in certain ranges, and I’ll still get it freezing up on me occasionally. Those are not negative things, that’s just where we are in the process. More work to do, and that’s OK.
Entry 19: End of Week 12
I was doing a bit of traveling this week so it was nice to get my mind off the shoulder a little bit. I still would wake up with pain in the AM that would quickly go ahead as I got moving.
My external and internal rotation is finally starting to seem to be coming along. Stretching out isn’t nearly as painful. It’s still painful, but not excruciating like previous weeks have been.
The last day of this week, I’ve been cleared to pretty much do anything I want in the gym with the exception of pull-ups, dips, bench pressing, or overhead pressing. Sounds amazing to me because I don’t need to do any of that yet. I’m going to come up with some vicious core stuff over the next 4 weeks.
Doc visit again! All good, keep progress up. Starting to lay out timelines for getting back into the water.
Entry 20: End of Week 13
End 13 feels like it absolutely flew by. Which it did. I’m getting strong and I’m starting to use weights for some of my lower-body workouts.
I’m now starting to be reminded again of my last labrum surgery experience. Around this time my logging/blogging slowed down. That’s because for the most part, I feel totally normal and a little less inspired to write about it because it’s been such a long process. I’m over it, ya know? I want to get back to training and surfing, and less obsessing and being restricted. This was a great week. Excited to keep chipping away and getting back to inspiring others through my work in fitness.
Back to shoulder… we’re getting there. Like I said, feeling great just need to finish the job. Obviously if I reach a little too far, or if I needed to do something suddenly with the arm it would hurt, but daily life stuff is nearly no problem at all.
Let’s go week 14!
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Entry 21: End of Week 14
Progress is now speeding up quickly. My external and internal rotation still needs work, but I’m only experiencing instability or weakness in certain positions. Not much to update here. I’m still not doing any overhead pressing, chest pressing, dips, or pull ups. On the up and up.
Entry 22: End of Week 15
Another week ripped by and I’m feeling really good. Much like last week, external and internal rotation still needs work but I’m getting there. I have my final doctor’s visit on July 6th where we will most likely be able to set a timeline up for getting me back in the water. At this point though, I’m in no rush. I want to make sure I’m healed, strong, stable, and have all the range of motion I need. I know I won’t feel entirely like myself again most likely until winter, but we are getting there. I’m back!
Read this for my take on overcoming an injury. If you’re going through one, I get it, you’re not alone, and you’ve got this! Keep pushing forward!
Entry 23: End of Week 16
Last doctor’s visit. My range of motion just needs a tad more work, but strength is still progressing nicely. I was cleared to get in the ocean without a board just to see how I feel. We are so close!
Entry 24: End of Week 17
This is my last entry for this story. Truth is, I get choked up a bit writing it.
I don’t know how relatable this is to anyone reading, but this was a very, very challenging process. It’s still challenging. It affected my mind more than I thought it would. Sure, I was scared initially, but I knew I had a plan and would get back at it eventually.
Want my tips for overcoming an injury? Check out this piece for my Comeback Plan.