• shoulder surgery

1-Year Shoulder Surgery Update for Neely

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.

Body Work

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.


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By | 2017-09-18T06:42:58+00:00 January 11th, 2016|19 Comments


  1. Jacquelyn Pellett January 5, 2019 at 8:44 am - Reply

    Anyone still have pain going on 4 months past tenodesis? Admittedly have pushed it and may be paying the price ,(snow shoveling way worse than climbing)???

  2. jacquelyn p November 21, 2018 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    At six weeks past proximal biceps tenodesis (ripped both tendons off climbing) I got the okay to return to normal activities as tolerated -had climbed one armed for first thrre week’s then gentle laying of fingers on holds next three weeks -After surgery I quickly moved into elbow brace to keep from extension beyond 150 degrees but allowed me to get out of sling so I didn’t have stiffness or loss of mobility.

    Have cut back gym climbing to 3 days a week -usually 5-7 climbs total -do bands with T Y I but cut back to yellow band as couldn’t even move red band -slowly getting less painful -there is hope for all (I am 68)

  3. Brian July 15, 2018 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Glad i found your post! Got rotater cuff surgery in a month and am nervous i wont be the same. my surgeon told me to expect to be out of work 4-6 months due to nature of my work im a very active person and the thought of not doing anything for a while kills me..also thinking about the nerve block gives me anxiety lol .Thanks for the update and glad things are going good for you

    • Neely Quinn July 16, 2018 at 10:21 am - Reply

      Hi Brian – I hope your surgery goes well! Yeah, rotator cuff surgery is a little more intense than what I had done because you have to be immobilized for 4-6 weeks, whereas I was only in a sling for like the first day (and when I went out in public for the first few days). But it’ll be worth it in the end! And don’t worry too much about the nerve block. Once it starts wearing off, you’ll wish it lasted longer 😉

  4. Danny June 5, 2018 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    Hi! I’m not sure if you still look at your comments here.. but I wanted to get your opinion and advice maybe? What type of slap was it? I have had a type II slap tear for 5 years. I re-hurt it climbing recently and now its pretty painful. I can’t really do all the moves i used to be able to do. Also.. little things in life like taking off my shirt and reaching behind me is painful. My doctor recommended biceps tenodesis. Do you think it was worth it? Will I ever be back to climbing the way I climb now? and weight lifting in the gym..? I am also a surfer and surprisingly swimming does not hurt my shoulder. Are you able to swim now pain free? I hope to hear from you sorry for all the questions!

    • Neely Quinn June 12, 2018 at 4:09 pm - Reply

      Hi Danny – I believe it was a type II tear as well, and yes, I absolutely think it was worth it with both of my surgeries (I had the other shoulder done last year). I can train harder and climb harder now because I’m not afraid of hurting it. I can also do everyday things without pain, where before I had pain many times a day just putting clothes on, opening drawers, etc. Yes, I think it was worth it. I’m not a swimmer, so I don’t have any input on that, sorry…

  5. Alex Vesco February 20, 2018 at 4:21 am - Reply

    Hi Neely,

    Could you possibly post a couple of videos to demonstrate the exercises you describe? Thank you very much for your blog as it gives a lot of hope to those of us suffering during the rehabilitation phase.


  6. Ryan September 28, 2017 at 6:10 am - Reply


    Thank you for posting these articles. I had a bicep tenodesis with no labral issues 5 weeks ago. I simply (or not so simply) snapped the tendon, it was probably worn down from years of weightlifting. At what point did you start doing curls, dumbbell bench press, shoulder press, etc. after the procedure? I’m mostly concerned because I’m in a federal agent training program that isn’t overly physical, but will require some strength starting 8 weeks post operation. Thank you for your help!

    • Neely Quinn September 28, 2017 at 11:53 am - Reply

      Hi Ryan – I think I started doing that stuff seriously at like 5 or 6 months. I was in a lot of pain for a while, as I am now 3.5 months after my second shoulder procedure (same thing as last time). I’d rely a lot on your PT and docs for this advice, though. Every situation is totally different. Good luck!

      • Ryan October 7, 2017 at 4:37 pm - Reply

        Thank you for getting back to me. I hope your second shoulder recovery goes well and quickly!

  7. Paul Johnson June 17, 2016 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    I had my surgery 5 months ago and I’m finally able to put my arm up over my head, but I still get pain from horizontal adduction and external rotation. Do you find that you’re still able to work on the last 5% of your range of motion? My physiotherapist also suggested active release–have you tried that too?

    • Neely Quinn June 17, 2016 at 4:13 pm - Reply

      Hi Paul – I don’t know what kind of surgery you had, so that kind of makes a difference in whether or not my experience pertains to yours at all. I find that my surgical shoulder has better range of motion now than my other one, if that tells you anything. It’s really good, and I can do everything I can do with the other one. I didn’t do active release, no, but I did (and do) a LOT of body work and acupuncture. Highly recommended to find a sadistic body worker who can keep pressing on your tender spots even when you’re screaming. That sounded really bad, but you know what I mean.

  8. Tina May 10, 2016 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Hi Neely,

    You mention “arm bars”. What do they look like! I googled this and only came up with the fighting move

  9. John January 12, 2016 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    Nice article Neely, I believe Hazel Findlay has recently undergone similar surgery. I tore my left labrum, had it repaired (reattached with a bone anchor), then did the same to the right aswell! It’s been 4 years now since the same procedure to the right shoulder, both shoulders are a bit higher maintenance than before but I’m climbing harder (currently V10) and my posture is far better! I learnt a huge amount (about my motivation, technique, psychology etc) during the injury-enforced downtime they gave me, it’s the reason I now earn a living as a coach 🙂

    • Neely Quinn January 13, 2016 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      Hi John – Yep, I did an interview with Hazel on the podcast where we talked about her shoulder. Glad to hear you’re thriving 4 years later!

  10. Dave January 11, 2016 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Great article, Neely!

    I’ll also add that Turkish Get Ups are an excellent shoulder strengthening and rehab exercise. If I could only do one shoulder strengthening exercise this would be it. And your comments on postural awareness and scapular mobility are spot on.

  11. Dakota S. January 11, 2016 at 1:39 pm - Reply


    This was super helpful for me as I recently underwent shoulder surgery for a labral tear. It has been 6 weeks and I have a lot of motion back but no strength. I am surprised you started climbing post surgery fairly soon. I was told I cannot climb again until 12-16 weeks.

    How long did you rise back through the early grades (5.7,5.8,5.9, etc.)? My surgeon and PT do not fully understand how climbing works so a baseline of progression would be helpful. I was sport climbing hard 5.12 outside before surgery.

    Also, any tips on maintaining finger strength while I am unable to do upper body workouts?

    Thank you for posting this, sometimes I am really bummed about being unable to climb but reading success stories like yours makes it a lot easier!

    • Neely Quinn January 12, 2016 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Hi Dakota! I don’t know if our situations are the same. Did you have a labral repair done? Meaning they put anchors into your labrum to make the tear go away? Or did you have what I had done? That completely determines my answer. If you did have what I had done, I started climbing like 5.6 at 5 weeks out from surgery. After a couple weeks I think I was climbing like 5.9. Then 5.10 came after maybe a month. This is all in the gym. Then I got stronger and stronger and went from climbing 5.8 outside in late January to 5.12b outside in late February. I don’t know if that’s advisable. I mean, my surgeon was kind of uncertain about me climbing so early, and it definitely hurt. I’m just a little hasty sometimes 😉

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