August 30, 2021 at 12:40 p.m.
Two good shoulders
“Whoops. Is that your bad shoulder?” he immediately asked.
“Nope,” I replied. “I don’t have a bad shoulder anymore.”
After almost two years with a shoulder injury, saying those words out loud gives me all the feels.
And now that I’m on the other side, I have a great appreciation for all the lessons I learned during recovery.
The most important lesson I learned was the importance of having concrete goals. Shortly after my rotator cuff tears and frozen shoulder were diagnosed, I read a study that said most patients diagnosed with frozen shoulder only regain 80% of their shoulder function. I was horrified. Glen said, “Hey, 80% is better than none.” But 80% was not acceptable to me. I wanted full use of my shoulder.
When my new physical therapist asked me what my goals for my shoulder were, I replied without hesitation: “Carry a milker with my left hand. Do a cartwheel. And swim front crawl.”
The second lesson I learned is that the barn is the best place for physical therapy.
Early in the first December after the attack, I fell a couple times on the ice and took a couple kicks from cows that jarred my shoulder. Each of those jars sent me backward both in physical therapy and psychologically. One of my care providers suggested I take a break from barn chores for a couple months to allow my shoulder to heal. Willing to do anything to help my shoulder, I agreed.
Two months later, my shoulder recovery had progressed a little, but I was mentally done with staying out of the barn. I returned to milking and decided to use milking as my physical therapy. I started out using my right hand to hold my left arm up enough to prep cows. Every time I reached up to pull the cane out of the pipeline with my right hand, I reached up as far as I could with my left hand. It wasn’t long before I could reach the pipeline. Then, I started pushing against the pipeline to build strength. I kept looking for ways to stretch and strengthen my shoulder while milking.
Due to the sheer number of repetitions of each exercise I did, my shoulder strength and mobility began improving by leaps and bounds. About that time, my physical therapy appointments were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, because my injury was not considered critical. I continued with my barn physical therapy and the progress kept coming. Small victories, like being able to reach behind my back to put my dipper back in its holster, turned into big victories: first, being able to carry a milker again with my left arm, and then being able to lift it up to the pipeline.
The third lesson I learned – do your own research – played an important role during this time as well. I did a ton of Googling and reading about shoulder function, shoulder injuries and recovery strategies.
I researched – and tried – dozens of different therapies: passive stretching, assisted stretching, isometric strengthening, traditional strengthening, acupuncture, massage therapy, heat therapy, infrared light therapy, injections, prescription NSAIDs, CBD oil, etc.
Several months into recovery, I developed new pain in the front of my shoulder that radiated down into my bicep. Googling led me to an answer and a solution: trigger point therapy. Trigger point therapy turned out to be one of the most useful modalities I tried. For me, understanding what was wrong and finding solutions were important parts of my recovery.
The last lessons might be the most important: Be patient. Be brave. Keep trying.
Some things in life can’t be rushed. Shoulder injury recovery definitely falls into that category.
When I felt strong enough this spring to try swimming front crawl, I started with 25 yards of front crawl at a time. Research suggested swimming until pain grew to a 3 (out of 10 on the pain scale) then stopping for that session. It took a lot of patience to work back up to crawling a half-mile.
When I felt strong enough to try doing a cartwheel again, I summoned up all of my bravery. There was no way to ease into doing a cartwheel again. I had been doing handstands again, but they’re not the same as the impact and one-arm support needed for a cartwheel. I reminded myself that the worst that would happen is I would fall on my head. I took a deep breath, gave it a try, and I did it. Without pain. The feeling of victory in that moment was incredible.
Two weeks ago, I completed my second triathlon of the season. I swam, biked, and ran without any pain. Two years ago, when I had to withdraw from the race due to my injuries, I thought racing again might never happen. Many times during recovery, I thought the same thing. At one point, I tried to convince myself I would be OK if I never swam front crawl again or did a cartwheel again. But deep down, I knew I had to keep trying. I couldn’t give up on my goals.
Whatever your goals are, be patient, be brave, and keep trying.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, 13, Monika, 11, and Daphne, 7. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at [email protected].