I’ve Cancelled My Shoulder Op

I’ve Cancelled My Shoulder Op post image

If you’re a regular to my blog (there are several thousand of you) you will have seen me sporadically post about my shoulder injury. I won’t bore you with the sordid details again, as I’ve already done into details about my SLAP tear, MRI + Arthrogram scan, and how I did it doing CrossFit’s butterfly pullups.

Just to bring things up to the current day, I was booked in to have my surgery, a biceps tenodesis, this Thursday the 8th December. However the consultant suggested that I may want to think twice. I’ve since been to a Physiotherapist who told me that should wouldn’t recommend surgery; I’ve spoken to a 2nd shoulder Consultant over the phone who told me not to have the surgery, and I’ve exchanged emails with a 3rd shoulder Consultant who also said that I shouldn’t have the surgery. Guess what… I’m not having the surgery!! This is what they were going to do (in summary, cut off my biceps tendon from my shoulder, drill a hole in my Humerus (upper arm bone) and stuff it in there):

To summarise all their advice, the common theme is this: shoulder surgeries are not to be taken lightly. They carry not insignificant risks of failure (of various forms) in addition to possible long term problems like pain, stiffness and weakness. So the advice boils down to this: if you think you can live with your shoulder as it is, don’t have the op, and if there’s any suggestion that your shoulder is improving, like mine is, don’t have the op.

To be clear, when I first injured my shoulder back in February, I couldn’t even scratch my head with my left hand and it did not make much improvement for several months. Once I’d stopped sulking however (lol!) and started going back down the gym, focusing on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do, things started to improve rapidly. Fast forward to November and I was doing the following, all without pain:

– Shoulder press: 5 x 45kg
– Snatch: 40kg
– Clean & Jerk: 60kg
– Pull ups (kipping): sets of 5, slowly
– Hand stands: multiple reps, holding for 10 seconds
– Front squat: 5 x 100kg

In fact the only thing that hurt, and then just a bit, was wall balls. But I managed to manage this by using a lighter ball and favouring my right arm on the catch (the bit where it hurt). I’ve yet to try things like Thrusters and Push Press etc. In fact I’d already decided not to have the op at this point.

It was only when I hurt my shoulder again (a PDR Self Defence session with a fellow PDR Coach Chris Worrall) that made me think twice about the op again. This time however, after just 2 weeks my shoulder felt as good as had taken 6 months previously. Cracking a rib wasn’t part of the bargain mind, but that’s another story!

So it’s left like this: I’m to get my butt back down the gym and see what I can do, or rather what my shoulder can do. Time will tell if this is the way it’s to stay forever.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Heath 8 December 2011, 7:09 am

    Curious in regards to alternative treatment. I read that in the States they had discovered a combination of steroids and blood doping (putting more plasma in your blood stream) had achieved results much better than surgery etc. Ill try and find the article.

    Any thoughts on non invasive treatment?
    What would be pros/cons?

    While not a steroid advocate I must admit I have more faith in by body’s repair mechanisms and giving that a little push that a surgeon with a scalpel.

  • Colin McNulty 8 December 2011, 7:23 am

    Thanks for the comment Heath. You may be referring to Platelet Rich Plasma injections.

  • Si 9 December 2011, 6:05 pm

    Hey Colin, great article. I’ve just decided to do the same! I was on day 2 of the CrossFit Velocity Coach B cert in Swansea with you if you remember me? I was the the short one! I was due to have a SLAP tear and other bits done THIS WEEKEND but I’m convinced that by going light and keeping rom has almost fixed the entire shoulder without going under the knife. Good luck to you and fix up fast!

  • Colin McNulty 9 December 2011, 6:39 pm

    Hi Si, yes I remember you. Seems like the NHS moves as slowly in Wales as it does in England then. Sounds like you’ve had a similar journey to me mate. At the end of the day, we can always choose to have the surgery later, but you can’t chose to undo it. Good luck to you too fella.

  • Maru 10 October 2014, 3:43 am

    Hi, Colin!
    I just ran into your blog by googling alternative crossfit workouts to do while I recover for a SLAP lession caused by kipping pull ups. I opted for no surgery and tried prolotherapy instead. After 5 months of treatment and not using my shoulder for around 6 months, I have no pain and have started to do some strenght training to gain my shoulder strenght back. I am adding crossfit routines, modifying some movements and weight. I am still to see how the shoulder responds when I start adding some more weight for so far it is feeling great! I would like to know how is your shoulder feeling now a days (it has been 3 years since you wrote about your decision of not having surgery). I am 44 and I am following a similar approach than yours: I am not competing for the games, but I want to be strong and functional at my own pace and capacity. I do know now what can hurt me and I avoid it. Still working out hard but way more aware of my risks and limitations.
    Hope you are doing great and thanks in advance for your response!

  • Colin McNulty 11 October 2014, 7:29 am

    Hi Maru, I’m sorry you’re in the same place I was.

    I sulked for a while but eventually went back to the gym and worked out what I could do without pain. I spent 6 months just doing WODs made up of what didn’t hurt.

    Slowly but surely I started to get more range of motion that didn’t cause pain. I experimented and found that I could do a few more moves that didn’t hurt. This process continued for about a year, until now I can do most things I want to.

    Currently I have no pain on a normal day to day basis. I get no pain sleeping on my side at night (I used to get a constant dull ache). At the gym I can do pretty much everything, but I do have a few limitations:

    1) I do kipping pullups but at half the speed I used to. I am VERY careful to make sure I always control the descent, and if I get tired I drop off rather than risk an uncontrolled drop. I’ve never tried butterfly pullups again.

    2) I’ve never tried muscle ups since then, it’s just not worth the risk I think.

    3) Wall balls hurt, unless I use a light ball. It’s the impact on my shoulder as the ball comes down that hurts, and I don’t do anything that hurts my shoulder.

    4) For bar work, multiple reps from the hang is a problem for anything above 40kg. It’s catching the weight as it drops back to the hang that pulls on my shoulder and hurts.

    In summary, I can do 90% of what I want to and, with some occasional modification, am able to participate fully in CrossFit WODs, so I’m quite happy with my decision not to have the op.

    Interestingly I’ve had several people approach me and tell me they regretted having their shoulder ops, as they’ve not had the recovery they’d hoped for.

  • Ellen 30 July 2015, 3:35 am

    Hello Colin,
    Like Maru, I have come across your blog because I was googling SLAP tear repairs. My shoulder was hurt in a car accident (why oh why do people insist on texting and driving?! This guy did not look at the road at all for at least a full block before rear ending me!) in April. My range of motion is worse now than it was in May, but I had a bit of a break in my rehab and wonder if that had something to do with it. I have a new physiotherapist now who is doing more than the previous one. An MRI 2 weeks ago revealed a SLAP tear, and I thought sure that meant I’d have to have surgery. My physio suggested that I might be able to get to a level of functionality that I’m happy with just with rehab and not surgery. I am on a wait list to see a surgeon, so I don’t know what to think. But I’m very happy to read your success story. Are you still doing well without the surgery? Thanks for blogging about it and encouraging others!!

  • New Crossfitter, Former Shot Putter 10 November 2015, 9:19 pm

    I just learned that I have a partial rotator cuff tear, and will be receiving a lidocaine shot to help with the pain.. is this even a good idea Colin?

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