A Functional Medicine Doctor Recovers from Shoulder Surgery: Post-Op Week 1 (Days 1-4)

WEEK 1 (Days 1-4)

I went back and forth on commenting on my recent shoulder surgery (labral repair, rotator cuff repair, A/C joint decompression). If you know me, attention is never my modus operandi, and using personal story is not something I come by comfortably. That being said, I recognize my story can be of use and powerful, and very little is out there on perspective of shoulder surgery recovery from someone who is not a Physical Therapist, Surgeon or Professional athlete. I hope this helps provide some insight into Post-Op Shoulder Surgery Recovery! I will update as the weeks and months go along.

climbingBackstory:: Rewind to what feels like a past life or a lifetime ago…when being a rock climber and a medical student were how I primarily defined myself. It was 16+ years ago while climbing in Joshua Tree that I fell while my hand was completely stuck inside of a crack, dislocating my shoulder with all of my body weight hanging from my arm….it was excruciatingly painful at the time, I had to wince my way up to my hand and un-wedge my hand out of the crack (along with a little yellow alien that I cursed and prayed to) and then finish the climb. I was out of climbing commission for 6 months following said injury. And because I was in starving student, minimal insurance mode, I did not have any surgery at the time of injury.

Fast forward 16 years, my shoulder has been surfing all around the world, and my climbing continued another solid handful of years, I have been through multiple Gyrotonic and Yoga Teacher trainings, and continue to play, enjoy and push this body vehicle of mine. Out of nowhere my shoulder finally decided that enough is enough. If I’m honest, the last year I have noticed that I’ve been babying my left shoulder more than normal. But athletes are good at hiding and/or working through and around pain and injuries…a skill I am learning can be both beneficial (in the moment) and harmful (in the long run).

Part of my decision to move forward with surgery revolves around my desire to reclaim my old self. Being a working mother of 7yo twins, and moving all the way across the country 6 yrs ago has put a little (not so little) hiatus on my outdoor athletic habits (which are essentially the core of my soul), and I am READY to bring this core part of ME back into my life.

You will see more on this reclamation project over the next year. 


Now that you have the backstory (there are a lot of missing details, but we all know that web-page attention span is minimal), on to recovery!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Pretty much my family is amazing. My husband and kiddos took such good care of me! Their sweet LOVE, attention, and care the first few days is what kept me afloat. 

Day of Shoulder Surgery Recovery: The nerve block in my arm wore off approximately 10-12 hours after leaving the hospital. It is a super strange sensation not to have any movement or feeling in the arm at all. I spent a majority of the day sleeping and icing my shoulder with this continuous Cold air contraption: The Polar Care Cube. The Polar Care Cube is pretty incredible: you just strap on the pad and cold air continuously surrounds whatever joint it is applied to. Way better and easier than ice packs and frozen peas! I kept this on and off for 48 hours post-op. Staying ahead of the pain with medication was crucial for me, and I followed my Orthopedic surgeon’s directions to a T for the first 48 hours (and then I was done with that).

Most people recommend sleeping propped up, or in a recliner chair. For me, I opted to use a Massage Wedge in my bed, which kept me propped up and allowed me to sleep (somewhat) comfortably next to my husband versus secluded to the living room alone.

Day 1 Post-Op Shoulder Surgery Recovery: I was still really sleepy and super nauseous from the pain medication all day. For breakfast I made myself my ReNew smoothie (added blueberries, strawberries, bananas, coconut milk and Renew), to help decrease inflammation and detox the anaesthesia and added in some of my favorite Probiotics to help counteract the antibiotics from the surgery. YUMMY!

Drinking a fresh smoothie felt like liquid life.

I also learned to master the art of Putting on a T-Shirt Sideways, to prevent having to raise my arm over my head. Lifesaver!

Here are the instructions:

  1. Insert injured arm inside appropriate  arm hole first.
  2. Tilt head sideways through the neck hole of the shirt.
  3. Reach up with uninjured arm into opposite arm hole.

Not much in the way of dealing with Day 2 was much different than Day 1…except by nighttime I ended up throwing up from the nausea of the pain medication, and decided then and there to stop with the pain meds and just use my Hypnobirthing skills to mentally move beyond the pain sensation.

My stomach was not feeling super hot after that adventure with my toilet, so I drank some Bone Broth and forced myself to sleep it off.

Day 2 Post-Op Shoulder Surgery Recovery: For me, I think Day 3 was the hardest. I was trying my darndest to compartmentalize the pain, but the pain was making me nauseous and my brain and body were getting antsy from laying around all day. I did not eat as much as I probably should have, my stomach was still upset. But I did have another ReNew Smoothie (these will be my mainstay for a few weeks post-op) and I ended up maybe pushing it a bit, and vacuumed my house (ask anyone who knows me, and I have a weird thing about vacuuming…clearly even in my lowest lows I still keep the vacuuming in check, call it what you will), and rode my stationary bike (for only 30 minutes, my usual is 60-80 minutes)…and I may have taken my bandages off a night early, and almost passed out. Thank god for my husband. He helped me get the rest of my football player shoulder pad bandages off, and helped me hobble back to my bedroom. I fell asleep using the Polar Care Cube, and woke up a few hours later to turn it off.

photo Day 3 Post-Op Shoulder Surgery Recovery: SHOWER DAY!!! Dry shampoo is fine and all (actually, it’s for the birds, and so is the pain), but showers are way better! Heaven.

Even though Day 3 was spent sans pain meds, my head was still super foggy and heavy upon waking. My kiddos are on Fall break for the week, so no rushing in the morning to get them up and off to school was awesome. Again, my husband is amazing and made sure I was fully showered before he left for work. Still no pain meds, but I have started loading up on bioavailable Turmeric to help with the inflammation and healing.

Day 3 post surgery is a day of taking it slow.

I was able to drive my kids to Rock Climbing camp in the evening. Normally I work on my computer while they climb, but instead I curled up on the couch at the Climbing Gym and rested. I was able to ride my stationary bike for 45 minutes in the late evening!

Day 4 Post-Op Shoulder Surgery Recovery: Sleep is AMAZING. I actually slept through the entire night, without waking up once, and did not need a wedge to sleep propped up. My head was still on slow motion, even though I was Day 3 without any pain medication. REST and slowing down is such a crucial part of the healing process. It is amazing how hard wired this innate body-intelligence is.

Flash, from Zootopia is my spirit animal for the week. Watch the Link! It’s worth a laugh.

Incisions and Stitches. Like 3 little stars!

My incisions and stitches look like 3 little stars resting upon my shoulder. I’ll take that as a good sign! I don’t mind carrying a bit of the heavens on my shoulder.

You can see a bit of yellow bruising on my shoulder. All in all, my range of motion is extremely limited, though increasing daily. It will be interesting to note when I can actually lift my arm above my head again!

Until then, I hope this info has helped someone get through the first few days Post-Op Shoulder Surgery Recovery.

I will post more on Rehab, Recovery and Range of Motion as the week and months move on. I’m ready to surf, climb and snowboard again.

Be Inspired!
Dr. Dishman


Functional Medicine Immune Health Injury Support Naturopathic Medicine Wellness

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