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Top Tips for Shoulder Surgery

It’s one year since I had shoulder surgery which, as it was more complex than originally anticipated, meant I had to take six months off teaching my classes. The long recovery made me think how much more difficult it would be if, like so many of my clients, you were living alone.

So through trial and error I’d like to share my top tips to help you prepare for and cope after shoulder surgery:

1. Get ready early. Start practicing doing everyday tasks with one hand, well in advance of your operation. The most difficult and challenging things were putting on socks with one hand and brushing my teeth with my non-preferred hand. Try doing it before you need to so your brain can start adapting…it’s amazing how quickly you improve.

2. Audio books are a Godsend. Being in a sling 24 hours a day for 6 weeks meant I couldn’t hold a book and turn the pages so being able to sit back and listen to a good book helped me through many a sleepless night.

3. Get a V pillow. Sleeping is very difficult wearing a sling, especially if you prefer to sleep on your side. A V pillow made all the difference to being able to sleep sitting up with pillows either side to prevent rolling over.

4. Ice – learn to love it. I had my op during one of the coldest winters on record and as I was spending quite a bit of time sitting down it was difficult to stay warm. The last thing I wanted to do was put an ice pack on my shoulder several times a day but knowing that this was the best way to reduce inflammation (as I can’t take any serious painkillers), I just had to change my mindset and welcome the frozen peas. My consultant said most people don’t stick with the ice but it really works and there’s no nasty side effects either.

5. Advice for women. I had to wear elasticated waist trousers and tops that do up the front for weeks. One of my clients gave me advance warning that you can’t wear a bra strap over the shoulder until stitches are out and it’s healed so I used a close fitting vest top and left one shoulder strap off….it’s the little things that matter! And have you tried putting mascara on with your left hand when you’re right handed? I was still going into the office and couldn’t bear the thought of not wearing make up for 6 weeks so I had my eyelashes tinted before the op and used lip gloss instead of lipstick so I didn’t look like Joker!

6. The doldrums. I was very surprised at the effect the long recovery had on my confidence and mood. When you are so used to being independent and very active, it’s really difficult knowing you have to rely on others and spending so much time alone. Thank goodness for wonderful family and friends who came bearing food and a smile, especially in the early days when making a sandwich was a major event. I can’t imagine how people get on if they live alone.

7. Driving. I couldn’t drive for 2 months and when I was signed off the Beast from the East brought tons of snow so I was stuck in again. Make sure the first few journeys behind the wheel are short, the loss of strength is surprising so even turning a steering wheel – or reaching out to close the door – is difficult.

8. Love your physio. There’s no getting round the fact that the exercises are painful but I’m so glad I did them, religiously, every day and several times a day as prescribed. I know too many people who stopped – because it hurt – but never regained their strength or mobility. Stick with it – and get the ice on straight after you’ve exercised.

9. Voice recognition. I spend hours of every day writing or answering emails and typing with one hand is laborious. I downloaded voice recognition software and it was really helpful. I’d suggest you get this well in advance as the more you use it the better it is at recognising words. It does have it’s limitations, even after weeks it still wrote Move it or Lose it as “Movie Lucy!”

10. Be patient. It’s taken a full twelve months to get back to normal, which is what my consultant had told me but I didn’t believe him. The loss of muscle after surgery is astonishing and it does take time to build it back up. Keep the end goal in mind and celebrate every step forward, no matter how small.


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