Perhaps one of the most frustrating injuries is a shoulder labral repair. The key to recovery for most post-operative clients is to manage expectations. In order to do so, patients need to understand the makeup of the shoulder labrum and the cause of injury.
As a rigid or fibrous type of cartilage, the shoulder labrum is found around the attachment of the socket. The labrum functions to deepen the socket, providing added stability to the joint. It also provides a source of attachment for other structural tissues around the joint. A torn labrum is often the result of either damage to the ligaments that attach to the shoulder, caused by repetitive motions or general overuse. Another common cause of tearing is dislocation or subluxation of the shoulder, typically caused by trauma to the area due to a hit or fall. Such dislocation can occur either posteriorly or anteriorly.
The degree of recovery is largely dependent on the precise cause of the injury. It will also depend on factors such as severity, lesion location, and quality of surgical care. According to the Johns Hopkins orthopedic surgery website, the estimated timeframe required for the labrum to re-attach itself to the rim of the bone is 4 to 6 weeks. An additional 4 to 6 weeks is required in order for it to regain strength.
The Johns Hopkins website explains the recovery process in detail: “Once the labrum has healed to the rim of the bone, it should see stress very gradually so that it can gather strength. It is important not to re-injure it while it is healing. How much motion and strengthening of the arm is allowed after surgery also depends upon many factors, and it is up to the surgeon to let you know your limitations and how fast to progress. . . . The type of sport also is important . . . . However, a vast majority of patients have full function of the shoulder after labrum repair, and most patients can return to their previous level of sports with no or few restrictions.”
Anecdotally, many physical therapists and patients have experienced recovery times even longer than the 12 weeks cited by Johns Hopkins. The process can be divided into three distinct stages, lasting up to a year for full recovery. The first usually lasts 4 to 6 weeks and involves acute pain and difficulty when sleeping. Physical therapy is usually prescribed during this time.
The second stage of recovery can last from 12 to 16 weeks and involves continued strengthening and stretching, usually accompanied by some discomfort. As the labrum repair causes minor pressure on repaired unfamiliar tissues, patients often cite a crackling in the shoulder and often feel as if another dislocation is imminent. Such feelings are normal and should not cause alarm.
The final recovery stage lasts 6 to 12 weeks and is the transition to your “new normal” — which means that your lifestyle and activity level will be forever different. By managing expectations, re-injury can be avoided, frustration can be minimized and full recovery will be possible.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website or call them at 202-223-8500.
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Image credits: Top by astoria / Fotolia; Bottom by Kzenon / Fotolia.