What’s It Like After Labrum Surgery?

My shoulder surgery was February 23rd. Today is May 31st. That’s just over 3 months ago. What’s it like post-surgery?  Not fun. The doctor says a full 9 to 12 months for recovery.  Some people say longer.  Let’s see where I end up…

Ground Zero

T- Minus 5 Hours: Wake Up in Charlottesville, Drive to Outpatient Surgery Center. Realize it isn’t open for another 30 minutes, drive around Richmond at 5AM in the morning looking for post-surgery treats. Richmond was chosen because UVa is a learning hospital and I don’t want any students touching me. Sorry people, I will trust you one day.

T-Minus 90 Minutes: Get suited up in hospital gown, get an IV with some happy stuff in it.  Meet the anesthesiologist, total nerd. Totally seems like a cool nerd. Brings out some electrodes to find some nerve in my shoulder for the “nerve block.” Pass out.

T-Minus 15 Minutes: Wake up and don’t realize what happened and am being carted off to surgery room.  Not cool that I’m awake for this.  Quickly pass out.

The Beast Awakens

60 Minutes Post-Surgery: Wake up in recovery room with nurse and mom with major headache and really need to go to the bathroom.  Nurse tells me headache is probably from no coffee. Hmmm, more like the chemicals. Nurse won’t let me go and brings me a receptacle. Decline and hold it. Wander to bathroom and pee smells like sulfuric acid. Shoulder is still numb, set in a really large sling and immobile.

3 Hours Post-Surgery: Are you serious? Nerve block is now wearing off. Where are the percocet?!

6 Hours Post-Surgery: Are you really serious? Nerve block is totally worn off and this is absolutely horrifically painful. Arm is glued to the side because any small motion causes major pain.

48 Hours Post-Sugery: Been stuck on the sofa for pretty much the entire time. Going to the bathroom, eating, moving and anything else produces more pain than it’s worth. I need someone to prepare meals and Sarah D takes super good care of me. She was the best caregiver ever!

72 Hours Post-Surgery: Really need to take a shower.  Need two helpers to get a t-shirt off and support the shoulder in the process.  My shoulder is majorly swollen and ice has been useless because the amount of bandages on the wounds. Nights have been sleepless because any small movement produces enough pain to wake me up.  I’m able to make it to the gym to see people.  Standing up for 15 minutes while on painkillers isn’t possible given the additional strain on the shoulder.

1 Week After Surgery: Still not able to cook or remove shirts on my own.  Not able to stand for longer than 15 minutes.  Still reaching for the painkillers 4x per day.

The Baby Can Crawl

10 Days After Surgery: Able to remove shirts by myself, but sedentary lifestyle is starting to hurt mentally and physically.  Especially when you go from 4X CrossFit WODs + 4X Strength Movements + Other Sports to nothing, your body isn’t used to it.  Besides the initial pain around the first few days, this period was the worst because I couldn’t do any sort of exercise.

2 Weeks After Surgery: Am capable of getting on the GHD machine and doing some gentle cycling on a stationary bike.  It’s not enough, but at least it’s something.  Even squats are painful because they contribute to a slight rotation in your shoulders which just isn’t possible after the surgery.  Rehab has started, but rehab is “active assistance” meaning no muscle usage, just moving the arm in directions with the help of a pully or another human.

4 Weeks After Surgery: Time to get out of the sling! Doc asks to see the range of motion. Arm literally doesn’t move higher than chest; arm is stuck at about 10 degrees off center when my elbow is by my side.

6 Weeks After Surgery: Rehab is still really slow. Doc really wants a full 8 to 10 weeks until we start strengthening and major stretching. I’m able to put together a few wimpy metcons with cycling, GHD work, air squats and some one-armed pressing.  Still waking up early in the morning with some super painful shoulder soreness. I haven’t exercised in almost two months and I’m going crazy. My friend Amy has been super helpful through all of this and I’m grateful she was so kind.

Real Recovery

8 Weeks After Surgery: Running isn’t officially OK’ed, but I can do it without any pain. I get my first bar on my back after about 2 months. I haven’t lost that much squatting power.   Rehab has gone from wimpy sessions of baby strengthening movements to full on let’s-hammer-on-Kyle’s-shoulder-until-he-screams-in-pain stretching sessions. I’m responsible for my own strengthening work and literally we just stretch my shoulder in every conceivable torturous position for about 45 minutes to an hour twice per week.

10 Weeks After Surgery: I don’t have to sleep on my back anymore!!! I can open doors, turn the wheel of the car and do stuff with my left arm without pain. I can do a full golf swing without any problems. Rehab dude is majorly stretching my shoulder. Normal people would pass out; I just make really funny faces and my shoulder vibrates.

12 Weeks After Surgery: I’ve regained a TON of mobility and I mainly have my rehab dude, Eric Magrum to thank for that. At 12 weeks, I can manage a bar on my back with no problem, I can do light weight turkish getups, I can press light dumbbells over head, I can do really wide grip pass-throughs, ring rows, snatch progressions, knee pushups and a lot of band stability work that wasn’t even close to possible 4 weeks ago. My shoulders are visibly smaller and weaker than prior to surgery, but I expect in less than 4 weeks I will be able to start rebuilding some muscle in my upper body.

About Kyle

Entrepreneur, Media Lover, Technology Admirer, CrossFitter, Epicurean
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24 Responses to What’s It Like After Labrum Surgery?

  1. Steve says:

    Thanks Kyle!

    I was looking at getting into an MBA program that start’s the night of my surgery. I was thinking that I could miss the first week, study to make up for what I missed, and then be able to make it to the the next class the following week. After reading your post I’ve decided to hold off until the next class begins.

    Thanks again for taking the time to put this together it was very helpful.

  2. Lane says:

    Great I’m scheduled to get labrum surgery the 20th of August… This does not sound like something I’m going to enjoy.

    • Steve says:

      I’m about six weeks post surgery. Honestly it wasn’t that bad. Really uncomfortable for the first few days, but my doc had me in pt the day after surgery. I took the OxyContin for a day and a half. I was then able to manage the pain with ice and ibuprofen. I went back to work a week and a half after the surgery, which wasn’t too bad just really tiring. I honestly feel that the worst part is being uncomfortable with the sling. I slept in a recliner for the first four days. It’s a long annoying recovery but really manageable. I was nervous too, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. You will do great…god bless.

  3. Sally J says:

    Hi Kyle,
    First of all, congrats! Secondly… I found your blog very heplful, thanks!
    I tore my labrum (SLAP) in an idiotic tree trimming fiasco and require surgery to fix it. I’m in my 40’s, good shape, eat organically (try to do paleo, very little sugar, gluten, etc.) I am active (hiker, swimmer, etc.), but it’s only for exercise; I’m not a professional athlete or anything, and I’m not a huge weight lifter. I am reading about the horrific amounts of pain after this surgery… I’m an Executive Assistant, and am wondering what to expect as far as getting back to work (at computer with mouse, but have a 45 minute commute to get there each way). Based on your experience, and others you may have heard about, what is a realistic time frame for me to get back to work? I would have to be ok with being off pain pills as I would have to drive and be functional as an EA.
    I’m already on PT and he is working in tandem with my Acupuncturist. Between them I have almost full ROM, and minimal pain, but I feel the dull ache almost constantly. Sleeping is fine. I use lots of heat, PT exercises to strengthen the other muscles, eat many supplements (fish/cod liver oils, vitamins, etc.), and also take Kan Herbs Meridian Passage for the pain (chinese medicine – from my Acupuncturist)
    Any insights, advice, etc. would be helpful for pre-during-post op care.
    Also, they want me to stop all vitamins, supplements, etc. one week before surgery! Sounds counter-intuitive to me… make your body less able to fight off bacteris/virus/fungus a week before surgery? Doesn’t make sense to me.
    Thanks!! And glad to hear you got back on your feet so fast!

  4. Jessi says:

    My husband is having this surgery in 2 days. No one has been really forthcoming with info on recovery. I appreciate your honesty!

  5. scott says:

    I am not a gym rat and tore 75% of my labrum….. pain… yes, but not nearly like this person describes it. 72 hrs post surgery and I had 5 anchors…tolerable if you are mentally strong!

    • Joe says:

      Scott, about how long did it take for you to be able to get back into the gym? I’m wondering when I’ll be able to do any sort of light lifting or even jogging on a treadmill. Just want opinions from multiple sources.

  6. pete daly says:

    Kyle Thanks For Ur Post Labrum Surgery Story. I Go.in Next Week I Am More Nervous About The Recovery Period And The Not Working Out For 2 To 3 MOnths. I Work Out Twice A Day 5 Days A Week. I Dont Know How Im Going To Make It Through…How Bad Was Ur Tear? Are You Fully Recovered? Are U Glad U Did It?

  7. Ally says:

    I have surgery the 9th, which is a Thursday, and im terrified, considering im only 16 and have never had surgery, but they have me going back to school the following Monday. But by the sound of what you’re saying, im not gonna want to do anything for at least a week or so, yikes. but thanks for the info. really the only honest experience shared so far!

  8. Joe S says:

    Hey man I’m scheduled to get labrum surgery march 12th. Doctor says I’ll only have to be in a sling for a week or two. How soon do you think I’ll be able to play 18 holes of golf? Or do any kind of working out ?

  9. damiksad says:

    This is so helpful! I had my labrum reattached a month ago. I’m also a CrossFitter and recovery is making me insane. Its more mentally defeating than anything else but I’m determined to stay strong. Your blog has been very helpful for me to really know what to expect over the next few months. Sure my doctor and PT can tell me a little about the next few months but hearing it from another CrossFit’s perspective is very helpful.
    Glad you’re doing better. Thanks for the blog.

  10. Christian says:

    I had labrum (slap tear) surgery about a week ago. 07/17/2014
    I found this forum the day after my surgery because I couldn’t believe how intense the pain was the following days and wanted to know if that was typical.
    To the extent that it’s my sole source of income, I have been a professional athlete in one form or another since I was in high school (professional freestyle skier). The reason I mentioned this is I have a ton of experience with pain and injuries and have a fairly high threshold for pain. I’ve had two broken jaws, brain trauma, skull fracture, torn ACL in my knee, torn meniscus in my knee, torn UCL in my hand, broken bones in my hands and shoulder, torn bursa in the same shoulder, bit through my tongue, and knocked teeth out, just to name some of the more severe. This surgery was more painful than any I’ve had for prior injury.
    I was prescribed generic percocet and found it to be somewhat ineffective for the level of pain I was in. I saw a previous poster say he was prescribed oxcontin which is very powerful stuff and I believe I should of been prescribed something along those lines to hold me over for the first few days as well. Note: If anyone who reads this, is about to have this procedure done I highly recommend pushing your doctor for the strongest thing he will give you…at least for the first few days.
    As far as my pt goes, my doc sent me home with instructions to do passive exercises and sling it most of the time. I have pushed that a little and am already getting some range of motion back along with using it to hold objects, turn knobs ect. Probably not the best idea but I am gonna cut that way back so as not to damage any thing in my shoulder.
    As the original poster pointed out, one of the most difficult things was to adjust to the sedentary lifestyle this impresses upon you. I am extremely active and am either working out, running, or playing sports every single day. This transition to the couch potato lifestyle is starting to get to me.

  11. Caitlyn says:

    Thanks for posting this info on your journey! I am having labrum repair surgery in 3 days. Grade 4 tear, all the way through encompassing the entire labrum. Will require at least 8 anchors. I am a personal trainer and compete in figure competitions. Very nervous for recovery and being out of training clients for a while. Hoping to compete again in about a year and a half….

  12. Will says:

    I had the labrum tear surgery exactly eight months ago on my right shoulder and the doctor told me I’m allowed to lift light weight high reps, and it seems like everytime I do this I have some tendinitis and my shoulder is sore for a week or so? Is this normal I’m trying to build back strength but I think I might be making it worse by trying to heal it back to normal faster graduate I did hear it can take a year sometime! Please help!!

  13. Tony says:

    My surgery went similar, but I was back up in no time. Post op I had very little pain and within acouple days I could sleep fine. I had my sling on for 5 weeks with no movement and when I got it off I could lift my arm near over head with slight pain in my arm muscles but that was it. it’s about 7 weeks since my surgery and I run a couple times a week but I’m alittle afraid that my recovery is going too well. did something go wrong?

  14. Kate says:

    I’m scheduled for labrum repair surgery on 20/10/15 and am getting properly scared now. I’m blind and use a guide dog, I guess that won’t work with just one arm for some time? My op is on the right shoulder, I’m right handed but work the dog on the left. After 25 years of frequent, increasingly painful, dislocations which I’ve always relocated myself, I’m beginning to wonder whether it is worth it, albeit that I’ve not done any sport for 18 months now since my shoulder got so bad I couldn’t swim, do pilates or anything… do I chicken out and cancel the surgery, just putting up with using my forearm for the rest of my life or go for it, and risk my career in the process due to a big gap in service?

  15. Afsal says:

    Writing from the hospital bed with 2 hours to go for the surgery. Let’s see how it goes.

  16. Afsal says:

    Back home after surgery. I will share my experience here for the benefit of others who will have to go down this road. I had Hills-Sachs + Bankart lesions and required 2 suture anchors.

    Post op: Felt the pain as soon as I woke up but the nurse dealt with that with some pain killers. I spent 36 hours in ICU which I felt was not needed as I could walk, go to bathroom and eat with right hand. I had to adjust my sleeping position many times because of the protruding bandages. Had to sleep on the back all the time. They were feeding me with pain killers at regular intervals so there was literally no pain for the 1st 2 days.

    Post ICU: Once out of ICU, they cut down on the pain killers and the pain starts building up slowly. It is bearable during the day but gets worse at night. I have a low threshold for pain so others might find it okay and I am no Gym guy. I stopped any sort of gaming activity 2 yrs back and is overweight. I used to play soccer and basketball (that’s how I tore it first time) before that. 2 years of no activity meant – 18 kilos over my recommended body weight and I am 172 cms tall.

    One thing I learned – sleeping on a chair/sofa is way less painful than the bed. There is something about lying down that makes your shoulder sore, makes you wake up at 3 am and reach for tablets.

    It’s been six days now and initial PT includes active assistance. Got to have the bandages removed on 28th.

    @Kate – No need of quitting now. Just go ahead. It isn’t that tough actually. 24 years of dislocation might have caused some depression on your humeral bone so you might want to stop that by fixing this once and for all.

    Thanks to Kyle and other for sharing your stories. It was really helpful for me, Even though this started 5 years, I think there is plenty of scope here for more comments to follow.

    Afsal from India

  17. Mark says:

    I am having this done next week. After reading this blog it has got me thinking about doing it. I haven’t seen anyone say it was worth it yet. Was it in the long run?

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