Article written by Scott Bookhout, MsPT
After being injured and initially responding well to therapy, I fell on the injured shoulder during a hockey practice that sent me to the surgeon. Being treated by a physical therapist is a common experience that sometimes leads patients to becoming physical therapists themselves. Although I’m a physical therapist now, being a good patient over weeks, then months, is still challenging.
I had a full-thickness tear on one of my rotator cuff muscles, called the supraspinatus, that was debilitating and clearly needed surgery after the second insult to the shoulder (falling in hockey). After a consult with the surgeon, surgery was scheduled with rehab to follow for the better part of a year. The initial two months was very slow as I couldn’t sleep in bed or actively move my shoulder in any way. I was also not exercising at all (stationary bike, as boring as it can be, was my friend).
Going through this has been more difficult then I thought it would be, but feeling the power and effectiveness of manual physical therapy firsthand has also been a rewarding experience. There were many times I’ve felt that my progress has plateaued only to be kick-started again by my physical therapy appointments. I’ve been consistent with a regime of exercises and have assigned myself close to double what I expect my patients to do (about 50 minutes a day). I want to encourage our patients that being consistent with assigned home programs is integral to a full recovery. That being said, the road to recovery is slow but steady, and I expect to fully recover.
I’m over seven months post-surgery now and I have about 70-80% of my range of motion back in my shoulder. I say this because last week I had a patient who was two weeks post-surgery and she was discouraged by her progress and was moved to tears. Our patients need to know that surgery is a big deal — the recovery can be slow, but the outcomes are very hopeful with many patients obtaining full recovery. Before my own experience, I think my expectations and timeframe for my own patients was a little too optimistic.
Another lesson I’ve learned is that I’m 53 now and not 25 (even though I act younger than that some days according to my wife). As we age, our bodies don’t recover as fast as they used to, and yes, we may need to adjust the way we do things a bit. My initial injury came while I was incline bench pressing a weight I had done dozens of times before. I was determined to get that one last repitition, then my form got really sloppy and I drove my right shoulder forward, causing my shoulder to crunch quite loudly. I’m 53, I’m a physical therapist, and I should have known better; but my pride got me on that day. When you’re older and weight training, your form needs to be impeccable, spotters are a must, and that “one more rep” for ego’s sake is probably not worth it and may be foolish without a spotter.
After conversations with the surgeon, with my physical therapist (who happens to work at PTOSI), and with others who have been through this surgery, it seems many report improvements up to two years after their surgeries. For those of you who have had surgery, hang in there! Be consistent with your exercises and don’t be afraid to follow up with your therapist for another bout of therapy if need be. Don’t give up, stay fit, and be smart with what you’re doing. Be realistic and honest about it, but keep moving and go live life.