Returning to Sports After Shoulder Surgery

A shoulder injury can be devastating to an athlete, especially when you need that joint to pitch, swing a racquet, or volley a ball. Whether your injury was mild and healed with noninvasive treatments or needed Dr. Spencer’s surgical skills for a rotator cuff repair or to resolve chronic dislocations, how you return to your sport can make a big difference in your long-term function.

Depending on your injury and the treatment involved, it can take anywhere from two to eight weeks — and sometimes longer — to return to your preinjury performance level. A reduction in pain isn’t always an indication that you can go full steam back into play.

Ease back in slowly and mindfully, so your body can adapt and finish healing appropriately. Oftentimes, the reason you suffered an injury in the first place was due to an overzealous increase in training volume or improper conditioning. Don’t let these pitfalls derail your recovery.

The first steps toward rehabilitation

Whether you underwent surgery or not, physical therapy and soft tissue manipulation can help you recover. Physical therapy offers exercises that help you regain full range of motion and strength. Soft tissue manipulation breaks down scar tissue and reduces inflammation by increasing circulation.

It’s critical that you follow the physical therapy protocols set up for you to expedite healing and prevent further injury.

Indications that you’re ready to return

Being pain-free is a good indication you can start to slowly use the shoulder again. If you’re pushing through pain, you’re not letting your injury heal!

Any swelling around the shoulder joint is another indication that it’s still inflamed and needs more time off. Dr. Spencer can also help you determine if you have full range of motion. Note the movements you can make with your uninjured shoulder to help you evaluate the status of the one that’s healing.

Before returning to play, you should also feel mostly rehabilitated with about 90% of your strength back.

Getting back in the game

When you and Dr. Spencer have determined you’re ready to resume play, still take it easy. Always warm your shoulders up before practice or a game with arm circles or resistance band exercises. Move your shoulders through their full range of motion.

Ease back into play by keeping your time on the mound or court short at first. You can gradually increase playing time over the course of several weeks. After your workouts, apply ice, then heat, to keep inflammation down.

Lifestyle support for your shoulder

Healing your shoulder requires you treat your body right. Get a solid seven to nine hours of sleep per night and allow your shoulder to recover fully between practices or games.

A healthy diet that focuses on whole, unprocessed foods and appropriate hydration also gives your body the tools it needs to heal.

If you have shoulder stiffness, pain, or weakness, consult Dr. Spencer at STAR Ortho to have the joint evaluated and treated. Early diagnosis, especially if you’re an athlete, can prevent your injury from becoming disabling. The sooner you treat your shoulder, the quicker you can return to healthy, pain-free play.

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