Getting back in the game

Over the last few months, I’ve written about how I help clients manage their medical conditions with exercise. Professionally, it’s been a great way to educate and bring hope to those feeling overwhelmed by their circumstances. The majority of people that contact me do so with a certain level of frustration. We have more health and fitness information available than at any other time in history, but people are more confused than ever.

On a personal level, my experience with fitness solutions has been deeply satisfying. In this short time, I’ve had people cry, laugh and celebrate with me as they’ve begun to take back their lives. When someone is finally able to shift their mindset from overwhelm to clarity and then to focus, something magical happens. As hard as it is to “just get going,” it’s even harder to stop when you start noticing changes and sense that you are moving in a new direction.

All of this has been happening at an interesting time for me. I’ve been managing torn rotator cuffs and shoulder pain for a few years and decided to have surgery in 2016. On April 12, I underwent a pretty extensive operation for my right shoulder. Torn rotator cuffs were sutured, my “frayed” bicep tendon was reattached, the damaged bursa was removed and the joint itself was cleaned out of arthritic changes. A lifetime of contact sports and heavy weight training had really taken its toll on my shoulder.

Leading up to the operation, I considered my situation just like I would any client with this challenge. There were many times when I felt overwhelmed and frustrated. Pain and disability can lead to fatigue and depression, and I definitely had my moments. My tipping point came when I had to throw the ball underhand at the annual parent/kid baseball game in our park. I knew things had to change!

Setting a surgery date gave me the clarity I needed to develop a plan of action to get things moving just like I would do with anyone who came to see me. “>The program that I came up with consisted of four parts and would take me far beyond the date of my operation. Here are the phases that I created for myself.


Most people have heard of doing rehabilitation after an injury or operation. There is evidence, however, that doing strength and conditioning exercise before undergoing a procedure can improve the odds of a favourable outcome and reduce the time it takes to recover following surgery. It’s important to note that this is different than working on the injury itself. In my case, this meant working around my injured shoulder to build as much supportive muscle as possible to stabilize the joint. I worked with rubber resistance bands and free weights to strengthen my upper back around the shoulder blades and the rotator cuffs. A big part of this phase is to enhance posture which can help decrease pain and minimize further damage to the joint.


The goal of rehab is to bring the repaired area back to full function as efficiently as possible. For me, this meant doing a range of motion exercises less than 24 hours after leaving the operating room. It’s no small feat to raise your arm when it is sore and swollen and you’re just starting to come out of the fog of anesthetic! Hats off to my surgeon who urged me to get moving as quickly as possible. It helped me to feel like I had some control over my situation. Currently, I am working with a physiotherapist on strengthening exercises that she designs for me. This phase can last up to 16 weeks and I am at the 10-week mark.


Rehab and physiotherapy last for 16 weeks and reconditioning picks up at that point. Once my shoulder is back to full function, it will be weak and lacking in endurance. The goal of the reconditioning period is to build the strength and endurance that I’ve lost throughout my entire body. I haven’t had a proper workout in months! Another common side-effect of surgery is weight gain. The combination of no exercise and “comfort eating” have resulted in me gaining 12 pounds of unwanted body fat that I am determined to lose as soon as possible.


To keep people really engaged throughout this process, I would suggest that “possibility” might be the most important phase of all. Rather than simply “getting better” and then working on maintenance, possibility explores what exactly you’d like to do once you are no longer in pain and injured. For me, it means that I will be mountain biking in the fall and playing hockey in the winter. My full return to sport should be in October, which is the six-month mark post-surgery.

Obviously, a plan like this would be modified depending on someone’s personal situation, but, the point is that clarity, focus and planning are the best tools for getting beyond overwhelm and frustration and moving on to rehabilitation and possibility.

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