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Thread: swimming after rotator cuff surgery

  1. #1
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    swimming after rotator cuff surgery

    Hi folks

    In Feb 2009 I had rotator cuff surgery. They sewed up a 2.5cm buttonhole like tear in my supraspinatus tendon.

    For about 7 years prior to the surgery, I had been swimming 1k 3x a week.

    After the surgery, I had given up on the idea of swimming for fitness, but I'm starting to think that was premature.

    I've read on this forum of people with much worse rotator cuff injuries than me getting back in the water.

    The physical therapist says I'm good to start swimming with a kickboard. I'm going to get some fins because kicking alone seems to get me nowhere.

    Can any forum members who've recovered from a rotator cuff repair give me some advice about how to approach my return AFTER I stop using a kickboard?

    Thanks in advance

    Mark

  2. #2
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    Re: swimming after rotator cuff surgery

    I had acrmioplasties done on both of my shoulders about 15 years ago. For this procedure, they go in & shave the acromium bone, which is the bone inside of the rotator cuff. After re-hab, I continued swimming , I swam masters for a season or 2 before taking some time off to focus on running I got back into competitive swimming this past season. I am able to swim without too much trouble. There weren't any events that I couldn't do. Any reduction in time is mor due to aging than the procedures. I just have to be smart, making sure that I continue to do the strengthening exercises (internal & external rotation) w/ the elastic bands. I'm not sure that I can give you a workout schedule as such. I can give you some suggestions on do's & don'ts. First, don't overdo it. I never swim more than 2 days in a row. Usually, I'll take a day off between swim workouts. Second, start off gradually, keeping your Physical Therapist in the loop. Stick to freestyle at least at first, and easy freestyle at that. Build your strength up before you try anything fast. Third, don't use gloves or hand paddles. They tend to put too much stress on your shoulder. fourth, once you feel comfortable w/ your freestyle, start working in some backstroke. For me, it makes my overall shoulder feel stronger.

    I hope these comments are of some help. Let me know if you have any questions.

  3. #3
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    Re: swimming after rotator cuff surgery

    Quote Originally Posted by markr_1 View Post
    I had acrmioplasties done on both of my shoulders about 15 years ago. For this procedure, they go in & shave the acromium bone, which is the bone inside of the rotator cuff.
    That's interesting. Do they cut the rotator cuff?

    After re-hab, I continued swimming , I swam masters for a season or 2 before taking some time off to focus on running I got back into competitive swimming this past season. I am able to swim without too much trouble. There weren't any events that I couldn't do. Any reduction in time is mor due to aging than the procedures. I just have to be smart, making sure that I continue to do the strengthening exercises (internal & external rotation) w/ the elastic bands.
    The physical therapists and I have discussed my staying on a shoulder strenghtening weight training program forever. I had shoulder tendonitis in the past, so I had one from that. Now, they're giving me one a bit heavier duty.

    I'm not sure that I can give you a workout schedule as such. I can give you some suggestions on do's & don'ts. First, don't overdo it. I never swim more than 2 days in a row. Usually, I'll take a day off between swim workouts. Second, start off gradually, keeping your Physical Therapist in the loop. Stick to freestyle at least at first, and easy freestyle at that. Build your strength up before you try anything fast. Third, don't use gloves or hand paddles. They tend to put too much stress on your shoulder. fourth, once you feel comfortable w/ your freestyle, start working in some backstroke. For me, it makes my overall shoulder feel stronger.
    I'm not looking for a schedule. I'm looking for exactly what you gave me - what you did, what you learned, what worked and what didn't.

    Before the surgery, I swam Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday - so no problem there.

    I don't make a move without my PT. They've been telling me there's no reason I can't start swimming again. I've rediscovered how much I dislike running, so back in the pool I go.

    On this forum, I've read about no hand paddles after rotator cuff surgery. Do you mean no fist gloves? I've also read on this forum that fist gloves are supposed to ease the load on your shoulder and at least one poster recommended their use.

    Did you do any breaststroke? The surgeon's mentioned that would be the first stroke he lets me do.

    Backstroke? Gotta go get lessons. My backstroke looks more like diving to the bottom of the pool than anything else ;-)

    Thanks very much for the info

    Mark

  4. #4
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    Re: swimming after rotator cuff surgery

    Yes, they cut the rotator cuff. I did one shoulder, re-habbed that, & then had the second one done around 6 months later. the surgeon told me that I could expect to get back to about 90% of where I was. That might have been a little conservative.

    It sounds like you're going about things the right way! One word of advice, when you start getting back to normal, you still have to do the strengthening & stretching. It's natural to back off when things are going well. That's usually when the achiness starts. In that regard, your shoulder is never going to be normal. And I'm over 15 years post operation.

    Good luck!

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    Re: swimming after rotator cuff surgery

    Quote Originally Posted by markr_1 View Post
    Yes, they cut the rotator cuff.
    Wow. That was a wild guess on my part. Must be pretty serious stuff if the dr's are willing to take the shoulder apart to THAT degree in order to fix the problem.

    I did one shoulder, re-habbed that, & then had the second one done around 6 months later. the surgeon told me that I could expect to get back to about 90% of where I was. That might have been a little conservative.
    You are not the first person I've talked to who's had a conservative surgeon. Mine almost had me convinced that my arm could drop off at any moment after the surgery. I guess he was afraid I wasn't going to behave myself ;-)

    It sounds like you're going about things the right way!
    I've had lots and lots (and lots) of practice with this physical therapy/rehab thing :-(

    One word of advice, when you start getting back to normal, you still have to do the strengthening & stretching. It's natural to back off when things are going well. That's usually when the achiness starts. In that regard, your shoulder is never going to be normal. And I'm over 15 years post operation.
    That's ok. Based on stuff I've done to my back, I have to be in the gym working on my core on a regular basis - so we'll add the shoulder stuff to the core routine.

    Still swimming and 15 years post surgery. Now that's great to hear.

    Mark

  6. #6
    Very Active Member Ken Classen's Avatar
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    Re: swimming after rotator cuff surgery

    Last week I swam over 22,000 meters for the week. Itís been a little over three years since I had rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder. I injured it skiing not swimming. The immediate effect of the surgery after a couple of months of PT was that I could lift my arm over my head without pain. However the return to swimming took much longer then that. After several abortive attempts, I was finally able to start swimming on a regular basis (multiple times a week) about 18 months ago. The issue in coming back was not shoulder strength but the repetitive motion. My first couple attempts at a return ended up with fairly intense inflammation in the shoulder and another lay off, even though I started very slow and added yardage in small increments. It has taken a while and I still know which shoulder the work was done on, but itís pretty good now.

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    Re: swimming after rotator cuff surgery

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Classen View Post
    The issue in coming back was not shoulder strength but the repetitive motion. My first couple attempts at a return ended up with fairly intense inflammation in the shoulder and another lay off, even though I started very slow and added yardage in small increments.
    Hmmmm. I'll talk to my PT about how to avoid this and post her suggestions.

    Mark

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