Rotator Cuff Surgery FAQ

How did you tear your rotator cuff?


I don't have a specific instance in time where I recall tearing it.  The closest I could come to that, though is when I swam MIMS and was killing myself to go faster which I never did in any of my other swims prior.  But I don't recall any kind of "Snap!" moment.  But I do remember thinking how much more pain I was at the end of that swim compared to others.  

When will you be able to swim again after surgery?  (1st Surgery on Sep 12th, 2012, 2nd Surgery on Jan 20th, 2015)

Based on my experience with my first surgery, I was completely out of the water for 6 weeks, and after that just "soaking" for a few weeks, and did not do any type of swim workout until I hit my 11th week anniversary of the surgery.  It was until just over 14 weeks where I actually had a good workout after surgery, and got permission from my PT to go for it (within reason).
So based on that experience with my left shoulder, I won't be back to doing decent workouts until:  April 28th, 2015!  Wow!  
 Here is an awesome article on the recovery after surgery.
How much pain were you in? 
For the both sides I was taking the prescribed narcotic pain medications for about a week.  I was given a two week supply.  I made sure to ice the shoulder as much as I could.  I was warned off ibuprofen, and for those times when I needed extra pain management without going back to narcotics, I took a dose of acetaminophen. 
 I remember tripping once when my left shoulder was healing and "pulled" something when I reached out involuntarily to catch myself.  That was extremely scary.  But I didn't actually fall, I caught myself with my feet, but that sure hurt like hell.
 I slept with my sling as the doctor ordered, and did the prescribed therapy exercises religiously.  That enabled me to get my left shoulder back to full strength within the 6 month mark.  
What do you plan to do differently so you don't re-tear them down the road?
Preparing for a long swim involves lots of training, but where is the line between good training and over training, and most concerning, wear and tear on the body?  If we all knew that answer life would be so much clear cut for athletes.  
For me, in the full year leading up to my English Channel swim (prior to the left side surgery): 8/1/11 - 8/12/12 
Number of swims > 10K: 101 total
Number of swims > 20K:  7 total
Number of swims > 30K: 5 total (Not including the actual EC swim)
Looking back, without question, that was overkill!  No wonder I tore my rotator cuff. After surgery on the left side, I trained, what I thought "Smarter", for Catalina (in 2013) and MIMS (2014).  Here are the numbers of big swims after that (spanning 1.5 years leading up to both CC and MIMS)
Number of swims > 10K: 57 total
Number of swims > 20K:  1 total
Number of swims > 30K: 0 total (Not including either CC or MIMS)
Conclusion 
It's my opinion, that it isn't exclusively about how far you swim that prepares you for any marathon swim.  Yes, you need to be able to handle swimming that far, but other factors include:
  • Cold water conditioning
  • Rough water conditioning
  • Salt water conditioning
  • Speed conditioning
  • Strength conditioning 
  • Distance conditioning (This one seems to get the most focus)
  • Stroke Technique and Efficiency 

With that said, yes, swimming long distances prior to the event is important.  But again, you don't want to cross that line into doing more harm than good on your shoulders.  In my opinion, I would consider doing maybe a maximum of 10K swims once a week, except for very rare circumstances.  There were many times where I would do 5 x 10K swims within a week and that was just plain stupid.   I think I let my pride get ahead of my brain and felt invincible mentally and almost physically.  
Yes, I do have it in my head to swim the English Channel again for my 50th birthday (2022 season), but when I get to the point of beginning my training for that, I don't plan to exceed more than 35K per week, and again, no more than one 10K session per week.  I may feel like I can do more, but really, is it necessary?  Keeping in mind all six aspects of training, rather than focusing on one (or even just a few), a more well rounded swimmer, is a healthier swimmer.
Finally, if you've had an MRI and it is determined you have a rotator cuff that is torn, I would highly recommend my surgeon, Dr. James Gardiner.  He did fantastic and was exceptional at his explanations and ability to perform the necessary procedure.
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