As some of you know, I (Neely) had shoulder surgery in November of 2014, so it’s been a little over a year since then, and I wanted to update you all on how it’s going.
First of all, here’s a recap of what I had done and how I was doing a month later. But basically, I had a torn labrum (SLAP tear), a bone spur, and an inflamed biceps tendon. So they removed my biceps tendon (biceps tenodesis) so that it stopped tugging on my torn labrum and reattached it to my arm bone, they removed the bone spur, and that was it. I was climbing 5 weeks after surgery.
And here’s a 3-month update from last February or so. I started climbing 5.12 again in late February I think, so about 3 months after surgery. I was climbing 5.13- in the gym in June I believe – so 5 months post surgery, and it felt pretty good by then.
I get a lot of email questions about shoulder stuff, so I figured I’d just write it all out. I’m going to cover how my shoulder feels now, whether or not I’d do it all over again, how I’m climbing, and what’s worked as far as rehab. Here goes…
How It Feels Now
Well, compared to how it felt before surgery, it’s amazing now. I had extreme shooting pains doing the most random things in my daily life, and climbing became pretty impossible for me. I dealt with the pain starting in April and finally caved to surgery when I realized it wasn’t getting any better with regular physical therapy, dry needling, massage, or the cortisone shot I got.
I don’t have those extreme shooting pains anymore (or really many pains in there at all), and I rarely think about it when I’m climbing. I will say that I notice weakness in my left shoulder when I’m trying to do big lock offs, but I think if I train wide lat pull downs or something with heavy weights, it should be good. I just haven’t done that yet.
Hangboarding and Campusing
I’ve actually sort of babied it a bit when it comes to these. I was hangboarding and campusing a lot before my injury, and I haven’t really done either since then. It just feels a little tweaky in my biceps area, but mostly I don’t do it because now my other shoulder is tweaky and I don’t want to push it. Because I absolutely do not want to have surgery on that one. Not yet.
As far as weightlifting is concerned, I started doing shoulder presses and other weight stuff pretty soon after surgery, and my left (surgical) biceps curl is stronger than my right at this point. Shoulder presses are stronger on that side, too, partly because my other shoulder is tweaked. I’m working on improving my one-arm rows for lock-off strength, flexibility, and overall shoulder and lat strength.
The way I work with weights has changed a little bit: I always work each arm individually now. I don’t want either arm to have the opportunity to lean on the other for compensation, so instead of bench press, I do chest presses with two dumbbells. Instead of shoulder pressing with a bar, I use two dumbbells. Instead of regular rows, I do one-armed rows. And I almost always do each exercise one arm at a time so I can focus on my form.
I do I’s and Y’s just leaning over standing up with very light weights, and that’s been a struggle. Even with 3-pound weights I fail to use my muscles evenly on both sides, so I’m working on not compensating on my surgical side, which is something I must’ve picked up while it was injured.
How I’m Climbing
I’ve had some other setbacks in my climbing training due to life stuff, so I’ve taken time off here and there, but I’m climbing on 5.12’s in the gym at this point without pain in my surgical shoulder. I’m gradually making my way up the grades again.
Would I Do It Again?
Yes, I would do it over, absolutely. I’d still be in pain and I probably wouldn’t be climbing if I hadn’t done it. Now, was it stressful and hard and the most painful process I’ve ever gone through in my life? Yes, no doubt about it. I cried a lot in the first month or so because it was just fucking painful. And would I do it again on my other shoulder if it got to the point my other shoulder was at? Yes, probably.
What Kinds of Rehab Have Helped
Physical therapy bands are awesome, and I use them religiously before and after climbing. I warm up with them before I climb by doing the typical rotator cuff exercises, and I stretch with them.
To stretch, I take a stiff band, tie it to something at my shoulder height, and then I walk out with it until it’s pretty taut. Then I face away from the band attachment point so my back is facing the door knob or whatever, and I let it stretch my arm and shoulder backwards. Then, while holding the tension in the band, I rotate my body so now the band is stretching my arm across my body, and I repeat the process a few times on each arm.
What I learned really quickly is that with the band or weights or whatever you’re doing for your shoulders, you have to have excellent posture. Your shoulder blades need to be on their way to touching each other, head up, and spine straight. If you do exercises or stretches in your normal slumped posture, you’re just going to hurt yourself more.
The weight training has also helped quite a bit: shoulder presses, biceps curls, I’s and Y’s, chest presses, triceps pull-downs, rows, and arm bars (those I just learned about from my friend Leici and I love them).
Make sure someone shows you how to do all of these things properly. I see some crazy shit in the weight room with people’s form and posture, and I know they’re hurting themselves. Get someone to show you, and watch yourself do them in the mirror so you can check your form.
I had a massage therapist (or 8) in the past, but I realized I kept going back because it felt good. It wasn’t actually helping, and my body apparently needs quite a bit of help to stay pain-free. So I stopped seeing massage therapists and started seeing people who I found actually made sustainable changes in my body.
This is not meant to be insulting to massage therapists, and I think there are some really good ones out there who can do sustainable work. It just doesn’t work for my body right now.
Dr. Steve Melis
The guy I see for body work is Dr. Steve Melis of Proactive Chiropractic in Boulder. He’s a chiropractor, which comes in handy sometimes because he can adjust me like nobody else I’ve seen. But mostly he just puts me on his table and tortures me in a loving sort of way. He digs into the places that hurt the most with his hands, and just keeps digging until they don’t hurt as much.
And then it hurts less and I climb better. It’s excruciating, and I cry and scream a lot, but it’s completely worth it. Here’s a video of him working with Renan Ozturk after his surgery.
Dr. Brent Apgar
Dry needling has also made significant changes for me, although I haven’t done it in a while. When I first was injured, Dr. Brent Apgar of HotRodHuman.com helped ease some of the pain in my shoulder. He’s also a chiropractor, but mostly what he does is stick needles into the places that hurt most, move them around in the most painful way possible, then put an electric current into them so they hurt even more. And then there’s less pain. It is also excruciating and tear-inducing.
No pain no gain.
So that’s it. Let me know if you have questions in the comments, and please tell me how your shoulder surgery experience has been! We’re all here to learn from each other.