Monday, September 7, 2009

Long, Slow Healing

I’ll tell you, as we get older, it takes such a long time for injuries to heal. I partially tore my right rotator cuff in 2007, probably around June. I didn’t know it at the time, only that it hurt every time I moved my shoulder a certain way. In retrospect, I tore the muscles one of two ways. It could have been from painting the inside my garage. This took me two full days of work and a partial third day, and especially painting the ceiling using the roller on a long pole made my shoulders ache. More likely, it was doing an abduction exercise, one in which you hold a weight by your hip and then extend your arm directly out to the side until your arm, and the weight, is parallel to the floor. I had been doing this with 15 pound weights, but then moved up to 20 pounds one time. I noticed some discomfort after about a dozen reps, and went back to 15 pounds.

Either could have done it. I read that painting overhead is a cause of rotator cuff tears, and the orthopedist that I saw said that the particular abduction exercise I had done was a leading cause of rotator cuff tears.

In any event, this was now about 27 months ago. It took a few months of doing the male thing and ignoring the pain, followed by several months of various examinations and trials of things, and finally an MRI to diagnose partial tears of the supraspinatus muscle and the labrum of the right shoulder. I could have had surgery, but with the Arizona Marathon coming up just a few months away at the time, I decided to do that only as a last resort. So I got some physical therapy, and religiously (for a while) did the exercises on my own that I learned. When it started to feel a little better, it was easy to no longer consistently find time for the exercises.

What they said was to do low weights and a lot of reps. For months, I avoided doing certain exercises with my right arm in water aerobics. For well over a year, moving my arm certain ways hurt a good bit. My shoulder made a popping sound during this time with any movement, even those that didn’t hurt much. At some point, most of the pain has faded and I guess the tears have healed for the most part. I can’t tell you for sure when that was, but probably within the last six or eight months.

More recently, I have tried to pick up some of the exercises again, and have increased the weight just a little bit. It is still a lot less weight than before. Two years ago, I was doing curls with 25 pound weights – now I am using 15 pounds. I was using 140 pounds on a “military press” style machine, and am now finally up to 70. This is after long periods of time with 30, 40, 50, and 60 pounds. I always try to be aware of doing too much, but I know that could happen in a blink of an eye without me even being aware of it. As long as it has taken for this to heal – at least a year and a half – I am not eager to have it happen again.

I guess as we get older, we have to strike a balance between doing too little and doing too much. It can be frustrating at times. The other day, as I was doing reps with 70 pounds, it felt a little exasperating to realize that I was doing 140 pounds a couple of years ago. For a second, I was tempted to try that much weight, but common sense over-ruled my male-sense. If I ever want to do a triathlon, I think I am going to need healthy rotator cuffs. But I am also going to have to have even more upper body strength. I’ve considered going back down to 50 pounds and just increasing the reps. Any advice?


TNTcoach Ken said...

Stop getting old! I became a gym rat to compliment my running. I wanted to be able to take my shirt off and not have people turn the other way. I'm big on lower weights and higher reps also. You will be surprised what you can do with just your own body weight.

Elsbeth said...

Ditto on lower weight and higher reps. This will be a nice compliment to your TNT training when you get back into it. Take care of yourself, Art.