The Injury Experience
Injuries are often life changing experiences. One moment, all is well and nothing has ever been wrong with your body. The next, you suffer an injury that begins the long road towards regaining normalcy. Since becoming a physical therapist, I find myself reflecting about my shoulder injuries more often than ever. These injuries changed my life for better and worse. During my healing and rehabilitation, I learned about myself, how my body works, and the importance of preventative strengthening. Below, I would like to share some insight from my experiences in hope that someone with a new injury might achieve their goals more effectively with this knowledge.
The last game of my freshman football season was at Morris Hills High School. This game was of great importance, at least in a freshman’s mind. The winner of the game would win the Iron Hills Freshman Conference. A few minutes into the fourth quarter, I went to block the defensive tackle I had been against all game, the same way I had every play. This play was different in that I felt an excruciating pain in my shoulder and was unable to move my arm. I did not know what was going on, and was scared. In retrospect, my reaction to the situation was more likely due to my fear of the unknown than the pain by itself. I yelled just about every four letter word thinking that this might help, but to no surprise, it did not.
I had dislocated my shoulder. The process between dislocation and relocation was rather unpleasant but explaining my misery in detail is not the point of my blog. I was taken to the hospital where wonderfully calm doctor x-rayed my shoulder and used a surprisingly gentle technique to put it back in place. I followed up a week later with an orthopedic surgeon who told me to try physical therapy prior to considering surgery. I was hopeful that this would work as it would allow me to get back to sports in 4-6 weeks based on my progress.
Therapy was an interesting experience for me. I was sadly disappointed to find out that i had difficulty with some exercises using only a 2 pound dumbbell, tough for a teenage meathead ego. I would have benefited more from the therapy if I had asked more about why I was performing each activity. I can admit that I did not give my 100% on exercises I deemed not as important. While this may not have been the cause of my subsequent re-dislocation, the fact that the question is in my head makes me wish I could go back.
After the previously mentioned re-dislocation, I underwent surgery to repair the torn labrum in my shoulder. It was weird to hear the doctor tell me that the success rate was only 93% at the time. Due to me being young and naïve, I previously thought that everything was fixed flawlessly as soon as the surgery was done. The surgeon explained that surgery fixed some things, but balancing the strength in my shoulder would be what reduced my risk for further injury.
The post-operative rehab was long and boring (to be brutally honest). I was obviously strong enough to do much more than what was allowed, but holding back as to not injure the repaired tissues was a tough concept to comprehend. I felt fine and all my pain was eliminated about a week after surgery, but I was still confined to a sling. I was a surprisingly obedient patient, except for playing more one handed lacrosse than i probably should have.
I hope you take away:
It’s probably not as bad as you think, being scared when something new happens makes things seem worse.
Rehab may be a few steps back with simple tasks in order to take great leaps forward
Even though physical therapy can manage a tremendous amount of injuries, sometimes surgery is necessary. Don’t let your effort and compliance with rehab be why you need surgery.
Surgeries aren’t a sure thing. Make sure you do your rehab to make your surgery as successful as it could be
Be patient in your rehab. Tissues need to heal. Let your body work its magic
Oh, things turned out great! I went on to start varsity in the next upcoming season and continued my career through college. The determination it took to overcome this injury is part of what makes me work as hard as I do at my other goals.
Paul Coviello PT, DPT