What I learned from shoulder surgery -at one month.

If you or someone you know isn’t going thru shoulder problems just skip this post as it will probably be of little interest to you.

This post is about what I really needed, what was nice to have and what I would have done differently. Posting this at 1 month post-op.  My surgery was on my dominant right arm and what I’m writing only applies to what I personally learned. I’ve realized short hair, flat chested folks would likely have an easier time with shoulder surgery.  On a positive note, I will say I think this is the first time I’ve actually had fingernails past my fingertips on all 5 fingers at one time from not using my right arm as much. 🙂

For my past shoulder post simply type shoulder in the search bar on the first page or click the tag for shoulder. I’ve written before but in summary, right after surgery, it was my left shoulder that had the cortisone shot that hurt first. Then after the nerve block wore off my right shoulder hurt, but not as bad as I expected. I didn’t take as much pain meds as prescribed and I was glad later when I had something stronger left to take for the pain. I don’t think I spelled it out in past post, but since I would follow instructions and since we couldn’t really afford PT with our insurance after a costly MRI and surgery I took my doctors offer to do PT at home on my own.

A day over 1 week I did PT with bands as instructed and the pain skyrocketed and was awful for at least 2-3 days. I was instructed to continue passive PT like pendulums, raising my arm over my head with left arm assist, and the motion of the PT exercises just without the bands, but to stop the bands for 2 weeks.

At 2 weeks I was back doing laundry, dishes, dinner, etc like I was before surgery basically one armed and it took longer. If something truly required both arms I was not. I discovered there was a big difference in the just using my arm a little bit and truly not using it at all.

At  2-3 weeks I was getting discouraged that the pain was still so much worse than before surgery. The ache area was larger. It took way less movement for the shooting pains to hit and the shooting pains were in the same places they were before surgery plus more places too.

At 3 weeks I was to start back on the PT w. bands but I talked to the doctor and told him the pain was still considerably worse than before surgery and I was still having to take lots of ibuprofen. He said to wait another 10 days before active PT with the bands. He also said my pain level was not normal but the didn’t think any damage was done from doing the bands on day 8 post surgery. We didn’t cover my questions about when I could extend my arm back enough to hook my own regular bras or push my thumbs into my back to pop it, pick up my 16 lb cat or even a gallon of milk. I’m guessing since it just hurts to put my arm in the position of the PT placements those are still a while away. I want to know when I should be able to lay on my right side again. At 3 weeks I cleaned the house, vacuumed etc but had to go back on ice and take something for pain even though I really didn’t do that much with my right arm. My right rib, shoulder blade, shoulder and arm all hurt enough that I didn’t think just 4 ibuprofen would help. Just after 3 weeks on our wedding anniversary, I was not up to a level 5-7 difficulty hike (per Kevin Adams book) to a waterfall we had planned for that day but I did finally wear a pair of jeans instead of sweatpants.

A day before 4 weeks I planted 15 small plants and moved 2 plants. I mostly used my left arm and it took longer than it should’ve but I got it done without my pain level increasing much. I was also able to finally cut down on the ibuprofen a bit and hope when I start the PT w. bands DAILY Monday per doctors orders, it doesn’t skyrocket my pain like last time. I still have a lot of popping and snapping sounds, and I noticed either a new bruise near an incision or my whole shoulder was slightly bruised and now it decreased to a smaller spot I can see and feel near the middle incision. The 3 incisions have all gotten larger and look dark like I knew they would, as I don’t scar well at all. Without a doubt, it still hurts worse than before the surgery, still in more areas and requiring a lot less movement for the sharp shooting pains and my movements are still less than before surgery. If I stretch my bicep at all, like even involuntary when I wake up it hurts my entire upper arm from shoulder to elbow. I can not put my hand out 90 degrees (more like 45 degrees to my side without sharp pains stabbing the front and back of my shoulder, and I can’t put weight on my elbow like to scoot myself in a chair or the bed. The more I move around and go back to walks and normal things the more my low right rib and right side are hurting again/still but other than rolling on the foam roller I can’t go to the chiropractor yet for a real adjustment. Yesterday I decided to try CBD oil and give that a try in hopes that I can drastically cut down on the ibuprofen.


Now for the shopping and to-do list that I updated.
Orginal can be found here.

Around the house

I planned to read but couldn’t really concentrate and ended up watching a lot of Netflix. Most of my computer work was put on hold too. It hurt to use the regular mouse for any length of time and I was glad for the handheld finger mouse I plugged in.

A left-handed recliner would’ve been nice but I learned to put the handle back enough to release it before I sat down so I only had to use my toes to start the footrest part up. If I was all settled and then wanted my feet up my hubby would pull the lever on my recliner for me. Even though I don’t like the look as much we plan to leave them side by side, well just because we like it better- and so does Tyler. Sleeping in the recliner was recommended but I found lots of pillows – almost like a nest, in bed felt better. It was over 3 weeks before I could lay on my left side for even a few minutes, and I didn’t really think that it’d hurt my right collarbone and shoulder to lay on my left side but it did. If I could’ve used my arm to have a pillow against my front to support my arm maybe it wouldn’t have hurt as much. But if I laid on my side then I wanted the knee pillow moved and it was just too hard so I just laid on my back. That hurt my back and rib but it was better than making my arm, collarbone and shoulder hurt worse too. At 1 week post surgery, I’d taken away most of the extra pillows. I had the one under my head, one under my knees because I could only lay on my back, a thin one for my right side for my arm, and as a barrier, so hubby didn’t bump me and a small one. My outlook on everything was completely different if I’d gotten some good sleep or not.

If your spouse snores loud enough to raise the darn roof and you’re used to smothering your head between 2 pillows don’t be shocked, like I was when you have to come up with a new plan to sleepHere is my post on that

I have love-hate feelings toward the sling. I only slept with the sling the first few nights. The strap bugged me behind my neck and back, so if it wasn’t strapped there was no point in it being there. It’s not like I was sleeping sound enough to move or do something painful during sleep. The mornings were the worst for me (other than after pt) this entire time. It’s a shame someone doesn’t make a 9-hour time release pain med because Aleve just doesn’t cut it. I quit using the sling much at home after the first week. I found it was better to use a pillow under my arm then have it pulling on my neck.  Just a tip. Instead of sitting down then having to lift your arm up to stick the pillow under it, I just would lean my arm off of me while standing, put a little pillow there then sit. Even adjusting it didn’t require me to lift it as much. I really needed a small pillow in the car! At 1 week I was told to start the pendulum exercises and to raise my arm so I’d change up the number of pillows to put my elbow/arm in different positions. I don’t know when I’ll feel okay enough to not wear the sling in public. I feel uneasy about people not seeing something hurts and it’s something others can see to not require me to shake hands, lift or bump me. Also if I’m up for a long time or going for a walk and don’t have a pocket or something to put my hand my shoulder starts to hurt with my arm hanging.

The ice packs we had worked okay. I used a kind of heavy large heat pack unheated to kind of mold and hold them in place over my shoulder. I knew the rest of my body would hurt and my other muscles will knot but I wasn’t prepared for the muscle spasms- so heat packs for those. An infrared pad would’ve been nice but heated rice packs I already had worked.

I never needed the back scratcher and grabber thing and I didn’t buy a backnobber There were a few times I needed Icy-Hot put on for my back muscles and I needed hubby to help get all the tape residue off in places I couldn’t reach from the bandage. In some shoulder post, I recommended baby powder for that.

A large lightweight sealed top cup for hot/cold no spill drinks is nice to have regardless. I don’t see me going back to the heavier ceramic non-insulated heavy mug I was using. I was glad I bought an insulated lidded mug for hot coffee so I can hold it w.o getting burned. A no slip sleeve for glasses to use with my uncoordinated left-hand would’ve been nice too. The lid on mine sometimes came off easily and sometimes I couldn’t get it off with my left hand.  I did have a problem with our microwave being above the stove and taller than me, especially if what was going in there was heavy or too hot to do with one hand. Also pulling bags open or opening jars was harder than I’d thought it’d be. That was yet another movement that hurt after surgery that didnt hurt before. I was going to make a few freezer meals- but hubby can cook so not a necessity. I did find that at 2 weeks when I was loading the dishwasher (one handed) and cooking some that my meal planning went to the easier meals that didn’t require me standing there stirring or lifting much.

House cleaning. No, no one is going to clean and do exactly how you would, but my type A personality learned to be grateful for all the help regardless. At 2 weeks post I was running around with the little hand-held vacuum and picking up the worst of the dust bunnies and tumbleweeds of cat fur.

Getting up and getting ready

Mornings hurt the worst for me and I was pretty slow getting going every day while waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in. It also takes longer to do everything.

I’m sure the toilet seat bidet looked like a splurge, but there are some things I just need to be able to do on my own and I don’t know when the okay will be given for my right arm to go past my side.  I chose the SB-1000EW  with warm water, a dryer and a remote (for left-hand use). Most of the choices had all the buttons on the right side. If I could reach back and hit the buttons, I wouldn’t need the bidet.  With a coupon, I got a good enough deal that I purchased one for the sake of my dignity, knowing it would be months before my right arm could do the work it needed to.  The toilet seat bidet was a must have and worth every penny. It will be a long time before my dominate arm could get to where it needed to be and my left arm just doesn’t work the same. Now with the pain meds, I didn’t need it until 6 days after surgery. I should’ve started the stool softener right from the start.  I didn’t need the Dramamine because the anesthesiologist did an awesome job and I should’ve started the laxative with the first Rx pain pill instead of waiting. I’m glad we got the one with warm water but I can tell little to no difference in the nozzle positions and the dryer, well you’d have to sit there a really long time to be dry not to have to dab the water off with paper.

I did buy a $6 electric toothbrush and it was nice to have for probably the first 2 weeks. After that, I wanted to go back to using my right arm to brush with.

The handheld shower spray was a must and I’m glad we already had one. Our last house larger shower would’ve been nice at least for the first 2 showers that I needed help with. The tall built-in shelf things in our shower came in handy too for leverage. It was hard to lift my right arm and it was hard to get my right hand to wash my left side and armpit. For lifting or raising, I’d set my right hand on the shower ledge or bar then lean away so I could wash my right armpit. To reach the left side I’d lean the back of my right arm against the shower ledge/shelf to help push my arm the extra few inches it needed to reach my left armpit.

My dad was in the Navy and I learned the trick about using rubbing alcohol to kill armpit bacteria (and smell) plus it also kinda cuts the deodorant so you don’t need to scrub as much. I read you couldn’t get a stick up there but I could get an alcohol-soaked cotton ball there and my regular stick by kinda leaning over with my arm on the counter and backing my body away. At just shy of 2 weeks I was able to get my arm up enough to shave.

I used arnica gel on my neck, arm and shoulder everywhere I could reach that hurt except for where the incisions were. I scar horribly so there was really no point in trying to lessen the scars, but I did use a vaseline type triple antibiotic ointment when the incisions started to itch while they healed. My rib and back hurt but I couldn’t get my arms back there to push up on my spine and there was no way to let the chiropractor adjust me so I was very glad I had the foam roller to at least pop and loosen my spine.

If my hair grew more than a millimeter per year, I would’ve gone shorter because it’s still not long enough to just pull it back. I thought about looking into a hair dryer holder but hubby dried my hair for me the for probably the first week. After that, I’d either let it dry curly and go wherever the heck it wanted to or use a method that worked for me using a counter stool as long as I never lost my balance. I would put my right foot on top of the counter stool, bend at the knee and put my right arm on my knee. That way I wasn’t really holding my own arm up near my head. Now I did have to bend my head toward my knee some and my hair wasn’t done like normal but it worked. It would’ve also worked to stack some books or something firm on the counter- just something to rest an elbow on. Before my surgery, I used the wall or upper cabinets to hold my arm up while drying my hair. This is the same kind of thing without having to raise my arm up as high. I had to use the same method to put combs or clips in my hair too. I didn’t realize I used both arms for that and it’s hard to do one-handed. Before surgery and after I had to take my left hand to help my right arm back to my side.

Getting dressed.

Shoes. I have slip-on Crocs and slippers. Older socks with stretched out elastic were easier to get on one-handed than tightly fitted ones. I already had a shoe horn that I use instead of tying and untying my shoes.

Pants. Get a few pairs of comfy pull on sweatpants. A little too big is better as it was about 2 weeks before my right arm could really help pull pants up or push them down- same is true on big and comfy on underpants if you choose to bother with those.

I’m not into sports at all, but about the only soft, casual shirts I found were baseball type shirts. I made the mistake of searching for button-up and seems everyone else calls them button-down. Before finding those I was looking at soft pajama tops. I bought 3 in larger than normal sizes, in light and dark colors, so I had at least one to wear between loads of laundry. After about 2 weeks I could put on very oversized t-shirts if the neck and armholes were big enough. The trick is to put them on you put your bad arm in first and get it all the way up where it goes, then tip your head and pull the shirt over your head with your good arm, then lastly stick your good arm thru. Reverse to take off so you’re never having to really raise your bad arm up too much.  I read I might need a button helper or snap shirts. but I was okay to button on my own, after the first few days and after the nerve block wore off.

I didn’t really think ahead as far as wishing I’d swapped out my winter to summer clothes and shoes or that I might want something a little nicer than a baseball t-shirt for Easter Sunday.

Bras.  Bandeau/multi-way/hook front sports bras or bra tank Oh my, what I learned on bras!  The bandeau style was bought and returned before surgery- on my practice run of getting that on one-handed was a disaster. I bought 2 styles of front hook sports bras and I wanted a bra on from the start. I bought the racer back style to stay off my stitches. They were needed after the huge bandage and tape strips came off and before my stitches came out a week post-op because the strap if not up close to my neck would’ve caught on the pokey parts of the stitches sticking up. My stitches came out I preferred the non-racer back style because part of my collarbone was removed and it made the top of my shoulder ache. The regular style goes over the incisions but out of the two choices, that bothered me less. Look for how rough it is at the bottom of the front hook closure, as after hours of that rough material from that poking me it started to irritate my skin. If my hubby was home when I got ready I really preferred just my normal bras. I could do those after 3 weeks by hooking in the front and then twisting them around.  It’d still be nice if I could find some again that the straps go in just a tad on the back and fall off my shoulders less but hey, I’ve been on the lookout for that forever. Okay now don’t laugh too hard because at the time I actually got all claustrophobic and felt like I had a straight jacket on. On the front hook bras, I put my bad arm in first just like the shirts. I did glance in the mirror at the back before I got my left arm in but low and behold after the thing was up on my right side and stuck around my elbow on my left side I realized it was twisted. It wouldn’t go up and it wouldn’t fling off my good arm and I literally had to text my husband and wait for him to come home and help. I tried using a hairbrush to make my left hand reach farther to pull it back off, I tried catching the back on a doorknob. Nothing worked to free me. Since my mornings hurt the most (other than after PT) I just really look and double check to make sure that the bra is not twisted wrong before pulling it up on my good side. Now quit laughing and let’s move along.

If you follow my blog you know we unexpectedly lost our sweet Trinity shortly before my surgery.   I pretty much felt like just being at home so I guess the timing of my surgery was pretty good. Her brother, Tyler was extra needy right when I couldn’t really use my right arm. He did learn to kinda let me back him up to my legs when sitting, get my right arm under both of his front arms (yes I said arms) to pick him up. Now he must have preferred this to jumping because he’d just sit a meep cry at me to do it instead of him just jumping up on his own. Part of that is my fault for always picking him up when he asked his whole life.  One big problem with Tyler is he’s a button and zipper biter so when I saw him coming to me I’d put a throw, blanket, sheet etc over me to hide them so it was less of a struggle. This is also the reason I didn’t really have button-down shirts. Hubby did the litterboxes for the first week for me but then I was able to take over unless the boxes needed more litter added.

I appreciate Dr. Brooks answering my couple of patient portal message questions. That is a pretty nice service to be able to ask a question and hear back. I wish at my 1 week follow up appointment I would’ve asked as many questions about what to expect over the next 2 months as I inquired about specifics of what was done. I still want to know which scope pictures are of my bicep tendon, because it still hurts just as bad or worse than it did before surgery. I swear I had to have had some sort of bicep involvement. I also want to verify that they looked at my labrum from all side because I’m still having the pain in the back of my arm and I don’t know what that would be from.

Many many thanks to my wonderful husband on this entire season of our lives.

Here is what hurt before surgery and after surgery. On the ‘after’ I got rid of the purple marks.

where i hurt

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