By the time I got my MRI results in March of 2012, I was slowly working my way back up to full workouts in the pool. I was doing half swim/half kick workouts, and during this time I paid close attention to how my shoulder was feeling. I eventually found a good ‘test’ for my shoulder: front sculling. By doing this I could sort of tilt my ear to my shoulder, and listen and feel for any crunchy sounds which became magnified underwater, lol. As my shoulder healed, the crunchy feelings and sounds would dissipate. It was also a bit hard at first because my right shoulder would compensate for the weakness in my left. For a while there both of my shoulders were pretty sore!
Since I wasn’t too keen on having surgery (the thought of not being able to swim for several months was too crushing to me at that point), I decided that I instead would be hardcore about my PT routine. After my last subluxation, I went back to PT for a month before I decided to just continue on my own. I also started to research other possible treatments that might help me. I learned about Active Release Therapy (ART) after poking around the USMS forums, and decided to give it a shot. In late March of 2012, I started seeing a chiropractor who specialized in ART. I remember during my first assessment, the chiropractor was testing my range of motion and she said to me, “Wow, you shoulders are fun to play with!” That made me laugh.
ART treatments are like short, super focused, intense massages. The chiropractor uses a small stainless steel tool to dig deep into your muscles with the purpose of breaking up scar tissue to promote healing. She was always apologizing for ‘torturing’ me, but honestly I didn’t find it all that painful….actually most of the time I thought it felt great! (Perhaps I have a high pain tolerance?) I also was given additional exercises and stretches to do along with my regular PT routine.
After about a month, I was mostly functional and feeling OK in the pool again. We had our Association Championship meet in the middle of April, and I had decided to sign up for a few short events (50 fly/breast/free) and told the coach that I’d be down for some relays too. My goal this time around was to make my seed times AND keep my shoulder in its socket, lol. Luckily, I was able to accomplish both, so that was a success! It was a lot of fun too even though I wasn’t in the best shape.
During the spring and summer of 2012, I kept to a strict PT routine (3x per week) and continued to get ART treatments every other week. By the middle of June I was back in great shape....gotta give some credit to an entire month of kick sets! I was back up to swimming 4 and sometimes 5 days per week. My shoulder felt solid, and as a bonus “the click” that I felt during backstroke had gone away! I think that a flap of cartilage shifted after my last subluxation or something. But whatever, I was happy to be backstroking again, as it is my second best stroke after fly.
However, all good things must come to an end. In mid July, I went on vacation for two weeks. Blast those pesky vacations getting in the way of training! I didn’t swim at all while on vacation (was visiting NYC), so when I got back I was waaay out of shape. Oh well, just gotta build things up again. I made plans to get back into somewhat decent shape for our long course meters meet at the end of August. It would be my first LCM meet in 16 years and I was totally stoked.
I saw the Ortho doc a few days after my shoulder dislocation in June 2008, and he pretty much just told me to keep the sling on for a few weeks, referred me to physical therapy, and gave me clearance to go back to work. I actually don’t remember much from that appointment at all. Now that I look back on it, things should have went down very differently. I should have been asking LOTS of questions….but back then swimming was only a peripheral part of my life, so I didn’t really think of it.
So, I went back to work a few days later. I work a desk job so nothing traumatic or anything. I do remember that it was hard for me to keep my arm in that damned sling….it actually hurt to NOT move it! It felt much better to change positions and move it around occasionally. If anything my shoulder felt less pain if I kept my arm down at my side. After a week and a half I pretty much abandoned the thing.
Sleeping was difficult. I’m a side sleeper, so not being able to sleep on my left side made for some restless nights. To this day I still can’t fully sleep on my left side, and I will feel some pain if I sleep on that side for too long.
My first visit to the physical therapist was short and sweet. It was about two weeks after I saw the Ortho doc, and I was feeling OK. He tested my range of motion which was just fine. Of course my shoulder was still very weak, and I still had some numbness, the “cold” feeling, and occasional pins and needles shooting down my arm, but nothing was overly painful. Overall, he seemed quite impressed with my strength and flexibility for having dislocated only a couple weeks prior. “You’re young, you’ll be fine,” he said. He gave me some tubing and a series of exercises to do - all of which were familiar to me since we did them all the time back in my age group days. I asked him when I could swim again, and he said to give it at least six weeks and to ease back in slowly. And that’s the last I saw of him. Again, looking back, I should have been way more involved in my treatment and rehab process. But at the time I had no idea what this injury would mean to me in the future.
Six weeks later I was back at my local pool. I had just watched Phelps go 8 for 8 in Bejing and I was rearing to get back ASAP! I had only been swimming 2000-2500 yard workouts once per week before my injury, so I just started back with a bit less yardage. I don’t remember any overwhelming pain – just a lot of soreness/weakness and my stroke feeling weird because of it. It was a little painful to breathe on my usual right side, so I just switched to the left. Everything seemed OK otherwise, until I attempted some backstroke and first experienced “the click”. Whoa! Never felt that before. My shoulder clicked with every stroke (right before the hand entry), so I just avoided backstroke from then on. I wasn’t really painful per se, but I knew it probably wasn’t good.
Updated September 21st, 2012 at 12:54 PM by swimslick