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Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Are We There Yet?": Shoulder Surgery Update

For all you achy middle-aged warriors out there wondering whether it's all worth it, here's my 4 month progress report on my double-row repair rotator cuff shoulder surgery:

To refresh your memories, I had 3 tendons torn (2 of them completely), 3 anchors and six screws set into my shoulder, as well as the top of my humerus shaved (nothing funny about it I can assure you). As such, your progress could be better or worse depending on how much work was done and whether you had open or arthroscopic surgery. For example, I met someone who had less work done and had twice the range of movement (ROM) I had in half the time. Dirt bag. (Do I sound impatient?) Shoulders apparently have more nerves and more planes of motion and so they really take awhile to get "better..." My surgeon told me that if you force too much in physical therapy and get too much ROM too early you actually potentially impair future joint stability, so it's dicey. Then I met another guy who had surgery a week before me and was back in the gym already. "Yeah, I can reach all the way up my back, lift weights, everything!" Frowning, I thought how I had just recently been able to reach far enough to my left armpit to put on deoderant. Dirtbag...

The thing is, I've broken a lot of bones and you always know that, barring any accidents or complications, you're gonna essentially be healed in 6-11 weeks. Anyone can put up with that. Nine months takes more patience. Then of course you've got soldiers blown up in Iraq or car accident victims that require years of healing and you've got to wonder how tough those people have to be!

Well it turns out my ROM (range of motion) improvement had ground to a halt. It was time for a change of tactics. No more play time in physical therapy; if I didn't start getting my ROM back now I might never fully recover. "This is fairly common," explained my surgeon, "the supporting muscles go into spasm and you must begin to tear up the scar tissue." "Tear?" I asked, "isn't that what prompted the surgery in the first place?"

This was different. My injuries were healed; now I had to fight the body's tendency to protect itself. "Make it hurt" my surgeon said. "How much?" I asked. "In your stretches, go to the point where the pain becomes unbearable. Then go further, hold for 20 seconds and repeat. You can do this 10 times a day," he told me cheerily.

And so I did. Tears would come to my eyes and the pain would make me dizzy. But suddenly I started making ROM progress again. I still have a long way to go, but I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I keep meeting people who had shoulder surgery the same time I did who are almost fully recovered. I know what they're going through and I'm happy for them. Dirt bags.

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