Hello again, I think it’s quite appropriate that I’m taking some time to write again as I have a lot of feelings right now. I need a way to sort through them and get them out. So, welcome back if you somehow still follow me, and please excuse my previous extended silence. I’ll dive right in (this will probably get long).
It’s 2018, and I seem to be on this every-two-year injury cycle. In 2013, I broke my leg and tore the ligaments in my ankle playing soccer. I was in a cast for quite a long time–or so it felt. And had to undergo physical therapy to re-learn how to play soccer and be comfortable with it again.
Two years later in 2015, I tore my ACL, MCL, & meniscus (also playing soccer), and underwent knee repair surgery. I also completed probably 6 months of physical therapy after that–and still feel the consequences of that tear and surgery to this day.
However, in both those cases, the treatments seemed obvious. You can’t walk until you’re fixed. The end. It wasn’t even a decision to wear a cast for months and undergo surgery, respectively.
In late 2017, I managed (through Crossfit & olympic lifting) to sustain a shoulder injury. I’ve torn my SLAP (superior labrum anterior posterior)–this is the little rim of the pocket in your shoulder joint that essentially helps keep things in line and keep the joint where it’s supposed to be. This is apparently a common injury in sports athletes who use their arms often (volleyball players, baseball players, swimmers, etc.). And many orthopedic doctors also see Crossfit athletes for this injury. Womp womp.
My doctor (and I) believe that I increased both the volume and the weight of my programming too quickly without properly working on that boring accessory work that no one likes. The boring accessory work that strengthens the smaller muscles around our larger muscles–so that these larger muscles aren’t doing all the work and overcompensating for the lack of strength in all those tiny ones.
As previously mentioned, Crossfit also lends itself to shoulder injuries as the movements can be really tough when you’re trying to muscle through on pure adrenaline and not actual strength. Speaking to a former Crossfit coach of mine, he said you can tear your labrum doing anything from a bad snatch catch to even just burpees. It’s really just dependent on individual bodies. And mine seems to be prone to being broken.
Unlike the broken leg and the torn ACL, though, it’s completely normal to live with a torn labrum. From all the research I’ve done, all the doctors and specialists and physical therapists I’ve talked to, and all the athletes who’ve told me their stories, I could go my whole life never repairing this injury–and live just fine.
In fact, quite a few people have discouraged me from undergoing the surgery:
- “You’ll never get the same mobility back.”
- “There’s a 40% chance you’ll just tear it again.”
- “I can snatch 300# with two torn labrums.” (more than one guy has told me this, lol)
- “You are not a professional athlete who needs to have this surgery to do your job.”
There is also a lot of information on the web that says a lot of people who have this injury do not need surgery, because the things they do in daily life don’t require the labrum to be repaired.
I’ve had a discussion with a coach that I respect a lot, who told me to look at what I like to do (Crossfit & oly lifting) and really think about if I’d want a surgery just to keep doing those things. Would I be happy transitioning to powerlifting or just being an overall fit person without the shoulder-heavy elements of Crossfit or oly lifting?
And I’ve talked to people who have had similar surgeries, who swear that–even though recovery was THE WORST–they are so grateful they did it. They have the mobility and no pain in shoulder-related activities.
I got a really great comment on a post I put up in a group:
“I have two SLAP tears. One in each shoulder. I’ve had then for 20 years from football and hockey. My shoulders are weaker then they should be, but my pain level on a daily basis is only a 1-2/10. I get [flare] ups and I take NSAIDS and ice them. I think the decision should be based on your pain level, your career (I am a firefighter), and what you are willing to tolerate.”
Then I have Sean’s opinion. He knows that I’m going to keep doing things through pain regardless of whether it’s fixed or not. My problem (as all my PTs tell me) is that I don’t know the difference between discomfort and pain. I’ve come from a background in athletics (soccer, Crossfit, etc.) that when things hurt–I don’t know what’s just discomfort and what’s pain until the pain is really painful.
I also think there’s a weird disconnect between my brain and pain sometimes–my broken leg and ACL tear did not hurt when they happened or afterward–but when they hurt while healing they REALLY hurt.
Sean thinks I should fix it now as he knows I’m going to keep going with Crossfit & oly lifting, and he’s afraid I’ll make it worse. He’d rather me fix it while I’m young and can recovery quickly, than potentially make it worse.
My surgeon is also amazing. She never pushes me to do things I don’t want to. She answers all the millions of questions I’ve sent her via email. A lot of people have “warned” me that surgeons just want to cut, but she has exhausted all other options for me first and really left the decision up to me.
I’ve also done a TON of research online as well as talking to experts and non-experts. I’ve watched a TON of videos and stalked people who’ve had the surgery (and chosen not to) on YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Reddit, etc.
So, I’ve not just gone straight from diagnosis to contemplating surgery. I changed my programming (not using my shoulder at all for ~3 months). I’ve had multiple cortisone shots and completed 3 months of physical therapy. And even now, maybe 5 or so months after is first started bothering me, it’s almost worse. My surgeon told me that, given the exercise I like to do, it’ll continue to work in cycles. If I lay off shoulder work, it would start to feel ok, and then as soon as I started doing regular programming again, it would flare up.
When I think about what I do, what I like to do, how old I am, it makes sense to just get the surgery over with–and then really focus on recovering and then doing the movements I like to do with good form–even if the weight has to go down.
And now, the sharp, acute pains I would get when I’d do a clean or a jerk have been replaced by a constant dull ache in the back of my shoulder that hurts when doing even regular things like sitting at a desk, writing, playing Just Dance with Sean on the Switch, waking up from sleeping, carrying a backpack, etc.
All this is to say that I’ve scheduled SLAP tear repair surgery for February 1st.
I still have time to cancel it. And I still feel wishy washy about going through with it.
I feel like I’m taking the easy way out because everyone else is telling me they’ve lived with SLAP tears and have still been awesome.
I feel like maybe I’m taking the “quick” way out instead of working to build things up with PT over a longer period of time (even though I’ve done months of PT).
I feel like people will judge me for choosing surgery when they didn’t.
I know I shouldn’t care. It’s my body. My choice.
And it’s not like I don’t know what I’m getting in to. I’ve recovered from a surgery before. I know how painful it is. I know the emotional toll. I know the hard work that goes in to just getting back to normal. I know I’ll essentially sacrifice a year in order to get back to where I was when I felt like I was “awesome,” to get back to normal.
I’m going to try to chronicle my choices here, if for no other reason than an outlet for my own sanity.
Thanks, if you’ve read this far. And if you’ve contemplated something similar, or had this surgery, or have this injury and chosen NOT to have surgery, I’d love your input, too.