Shoulder Surgery is no Joke.

It’s been three weeks since my surgery to repair my shoulder. Three *very* long (insert cuss word of choice) weeks. I consider myself a pretty tough chick. I mean, I’m a sensitive soul, but in terms of pain, I can handle pain pretty well (unless it’s a paper cut, and then forget it).  I mean, I delivered Tyler without any pain medication … but nothing could have prepared me for the pain of shoulder repair.

Let me back up a bit … I had a SLAP repair on April 11th — 7 weeks after my snow skiing accident on February 20th.  Why did I wait so long for surgery?   Weeeellllll … that’s because I’m stubborn and I delayed my MRI thinking that there was NO way I had this much damage to my shoulder!!  I just kept thinking it would get better!

As it turns out, 2/3 of my labrum were torn and then during the surgery my doctor also performed a bicep tendonesis. Turns out, my accident “shredded” my bicep muscle so I got an extra incision and a repair of the bicep muscle. All in all, the procedure was slightly less than two hours and after two more hours in recovery we were on our way home. When I woke up, I already had my six week companion — the shoulder stabilizer (for which I have a love-hate relationship). It helps keep my arm protected from kids and crowds and helps keep me from doing things I shouldn’t yet … but I can’t wait for May 23rd when I don’t have to wear it anymore!

Anyway … back to recovery … I had a nerve block so I couldn’t feel *anything* on my left arm when I woke up from surgery.   Not even my fingers.  But the doctor advised I start taking my prescription pain medications immediately so that when the nerve block wore off, I would be prepared. Well … let’s just say, that first night was a long night and I was no where near prepared. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I screamed, cried, paced the living room floor, took medication when I was allowed and screamed some more. I wished for death and thought maybe I was dying. Shawn was amazing through it all — but that’s a post for another time.  As soon as the doctor’s office opened the following day, we called and got a new plan to get my pain managed so that I could start to rest and heal.

Anyway … I would say the first three days were terrible. And I mean, terrible. First of all, I was like a newborn — so, Shawn was setting his alarm all through the night for every three hours to make sure I stayed on top of the medication. So add sleep deprivation with the pain and you can imagine how bad those first few days were.

I was so excited for the third day when I was allowed to take off the huge bandages and take a shower. Well, that hurt like hell. Taking my arm out of the sling was awful. My arm had been in the same position for 72 hours and I underestimated how much it would hurt to move my arm down by my side. I collapsed into Shawn’s arms crying.

That day I started the shoulder pendulum swings in both directions — google it if you want to know what it looks like. I could do five — the goal was 20. I couldn’t lift my arm up from next to my leg more than an inch in any direction. I was shocked at how little I could move my arm and how holding even a piece of paper in my left hand hurt.

If you follow my Instagram, you know I don’t just post the best days of my life or how amazing everything always is — because some days life is hard. I find that sharing true emotion of hard days is good for the soul. So, I wrote about my pain level and how terrible I was feeling and a friend wrote and offered me this ice machine that runs ice cold water nonstop (it’s the blue thing in all of the pictures).  She had it for her son who also had shoulder surgery so it had the shoulder pad that wraps around my shoulder and bicep. It’s awesome and it was the first relief I had in days. Shawn said it was the first time I smiled a real smile. I swear, it helped my recovery. The constant cold was so much better than switching ice packs every three hours. If you just happened to stumble across this post and you’re going to have a shoulder surgery, get the BREG Polar Ice Care machine. It’s worth every penny. Trust me.  And buy yourself some Dickies scrub pants!   It’s all I’ve worn for three weeks.

The next several days were mostly sleeping in the recliner with ice and watching reruns of shows I’d already seen. I love my village. I had friends bring flowers and food and things to help me feel pretty and clean while sitting in the chair. The flowers that showed up from my friends from afar were some of my favorite things. I got goodie bags of chocolates and dry shampoo. One girlfriend came and braided my hair. My sister came and brought dinner for six and helped clean and do laundry. My mom delivered Easter dinner for our family. So many friends helped get kids to school and to sports and activities. I loved the supportive phone calls and texts.   And Shawn.  I couldn’t have survived this without him.

I started Physical Therapy two weeks after my surgery on April 25th … I’m going twice a week and after four sessions, I can lift my arm straight forward and to my shoulder (and not an inch higher). I can *almost* reach my head to wash my hair (so long as I lean my head over).  I do 20 pendulum swings several times per day and now I’m allowed to use a two pound weight with them. I’m not allowed to lift, pull or twist anything with my left arm. If you know me, you know slow progress is hard for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see progress and happy to see that I can lift my arm but I used to be able to curl 35 pounds and now holding a two pound weight is hard!  It’s going to take four months for me to be able to move my arm in all directions and one full year before I’m close to 100%.  Sigh.

I stopped taking prescription pain medications after 16 days — it’s crazy to me how many pills I took in 16 days … not counting Tylenol I took 100 pain pills and the bulk of those were in the first five days. I’m still in pain but it’s manageable. I’d rather feel a little bit of pain and be a productive member of our household than sit around in a recliner all day, every day! Plus, when I was on them, I cried every damn day!

Here’s what I know — I don’t get to go back to olympic lifts. I don’t get to go back to trying to get PR’s with any lift. I may never get to deadlift again. The doctor said that if I keep going the way I was going with weight lifting that I’ll likely need a full shoulder replacement in 10-15 years. So … he suggested yoga! I also know that this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done … the surgery and recovering from it.    I know I’m impatient and would like to wear something other than a zip-up sports bra and elastic waist pants … but it’s all I can do on my own!  I know that I had a great surgeon and a village of people who love and care for me.

And I know that I’m smiling again.

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  • AlexisApril 25, 2021 - 3:11 am

    I am having the same surgery on 4/29 & dont think my bicep is shredded. We dont know how I got this tear to begin with!! I was a flight attendant for 20 yrs so they may be a reason! I am terrified of the pain & have seen the ice machines on Amazon. Ordering one now. Thank you for the most honest post. ❤️❤️ReplyCancel

  • MaríaNovember 29, 2021 - 1:45 am

    Thank you so much for sharing! May you continue to heal!ReplyCancel

  • RobbynDecember 4, 2021 - 3:23 pm

    I’m into my 2nd week after labral repair,bicep tenodesis and subcromial decompression,I feel your pain especially those pendulum exercises I’ve just had stitches out.thankyou for your honest account it helped me to not only be prepared but that it will get better each day.ReplyCancel

  • MonicaNovember 20, 2022 - 12:58 am

    I can relate to your experience.  I’m in my 3rd week of recovery from rotator cuff surgery on my right (dominant) shoulder to repair full tear of muscle after a fall. The first day after surgery – I thought I would die from the pain.  I cried and cursed, I felt horrible anxiety, it was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.  I broke down and cried about six times in the first 2 weeks.  The frustration, the anxiety, the pain was overwhelming.  
    I just had my first therapy session late last week and with the holidays, won’t have 2nd session until 12 days later. My therapist said I was at a good point in my recovery, and hearing that did wonders for me. I needed to hear that, to know I was no worse than I should be. I was terrified that I was behind where I should be. I still have a pain and need three Tylenol#4 and three Ibuprofen daily but that’s down from 4x each.  I didn’t like thinking about how many pills I had to take in the first 2 weeks but relieved to see that I’m able to take less now.  
    I wish I’d read your post before my surgery or just after, it would have helped my expectations. Thank you ReplyCancel

  • KimMarch 18, 2023 - 3:11 pm

    Here I am reading this 6 years later, hoping you had a full recovery. Am preparing for Father-in-law shoulder replacement and came across your experience. Thank you for sharing, it gives me insight into what we’re heading for.ReplyCancel

  • CarmaApril 22, 2023 - 5:10 am

    Oh Katie, thank you for sharing this! I’m so sorry it’s been such an arduous journey for you. Hang in there…you’re kicking butt. I’m terrified for my surgery that is very similar to yours. Oddly enough, I’m not sure how I hurt mine, but I suspect it was from packing to move. Please let me know if there are any other helpful hints you may have.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa P.August 24, 2023 - 4:40 pm

    I also had this surgery this summer. Everything I heard scared the crap out of me and I did a lot to prepare. Zip up sports bras, ice packs, pre-cooked a ton of meals. I had the labrum tear, the bicep tendonesis and a rotator cuff tear. My pain was not as bad and I was off the hard meds in 5 days. Slept in a recliner for 5 weeks. (non-negotiable) The best thing is to do your PT. EVERYDAY. Work that arm and move it as much as you can (but NO lifting!) I am 10 weeks out and doing well, but the shoulder is still cranky when you move it in a certain direction or lift something wierdly. Be good to yourself and rest the arm when you need to!ReplyCancel

  • JacquieSeptember 2, 2023 - 2:14 am

    I just had this on June 23 of this year and can you please tell me yours healed eventually? I am seriously thinking I will be this way forever. I was in pain before but I had great range of motion and now I am in worse pain and my left arm feels like a 5poumd sandbag is strapped to it preventing my range of motion. I’m doing therapy and all the exercises and then some. 
    Id appreciate any hope or advice. 

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