swimming after rotator cuff surgery

Posted by oerin @oerin, Feb 23, 2020

Hi, I am a 61 year old active female who LOVES swimming. Before R rotator cuff surgery, I was swimming the crawl and the back stroke 3 times a week (a mile each time). I am post op 3 1/2 months; the orthopod is letting me swim the breast stroke and the side stroke; I got permission to try an abbreviated version of the crawl on Tuesday…no good! Lots of pain in the R arm in different spots. Originally, the doctor thought that I would have to wait until May (6 months out) before trying the crawl. So, now I don't know what my next step should be. My PT is wonderful, but he is not a swimmer. We are just trying different options each time I swim. Saturday, I used the waist belt just to try something different with the breast stroke; it was a fun new toy! I had been also trying the back stroke with JUST my L arm, but it is too much torque on that arm. Any ideas out there on how to progress? Thanks!

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Hello @oerin and welcome to Mayo Connect,

I'm pleased to hear that you are recovering so well from your surgery and able to get back to swimming. You must feel great to be back in the water again.

While we wait for others to post who have had rotator cuff surgery, have you considered any therapeutic PT in the water? My local YMCA has water therapists who will work with people in the pool to strengthen then in their recovery from disabilities and/or surgeries.

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@hopeful33250

Hello @oerin and welcome to Mayo Connect,

I'm pleased to hear that you are recovering so well from your surgery and able to get back to swimming. You must feel great to be back in the water again.

While we wait for others to post who have had rotator cuff surgery, have you considered any therapeutic PT in the water? My local YMCA has water therapists who will work with people in the pool to strengthen then in their recovery from disabilities and/or surgeries.

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Hi, unfortunately, we live in a small town in Wisconsin; the pool that I swim in is attached to the local Junior High School. Great idea though!

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@oerin

Hi, unfortunately, we live in a small town in Wisconsin; the pool that I swim in is attached to the local Junior High School. Great idea though!

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@oerin I'd like to welcome you as well.Ask iif the high school allows adult swimming. The one back home did ,maybe yours does .

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@lioness

@oerin I'd like to welcome you as well.Ask iif the high school allows adult swimming. The one back home did ,maybe yours does .

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Our high school does not have a pool, just our junior high. They do have adult lap swim and that is where I do go to swim. I am just having a hard time finding protocol for swimming after rotator cuff surgery. Very discouraging!

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@oerion Did you ask your Dr? Or PT should give you a protocol paper with the exercises on them When I fractured my back I had therapy in the pool told Dr the once on land I couldn't do

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@oerin : I agree with lioness that you should try to do some swim-specific exercises in the water. Will definitely help recovery process. I did rehab in the pool for my TKR with great results. Regarding the crawl – patience, patience! I had rotator cuff surgeries on either shoulder, and while the right one was more complicated, I was back to playing tennis – with overhead serve motion – after exactly 3 months and 29 days. BUT that motion, somewhat similar to a crawl stroke, was only a limited amount of times, quite wimpy, and not continuous. Realistically, it will take about 9 months to get 90% of strength and flexibility back, and close to 1 year to be as good as new. I started with swimming backstroke after the TKR, since breaststroke was impossible due to the frog kick motion, and have worked my way up to 1/2 mile a few times a week. Perhaps someone with the same surgery who also swims can give you better information.

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@ellerbracke

@oerin : I agree with lioness that you should try to do some swim-specific exercises in the water. Will definitely help recovery process. I did rehab in the pool for my TKR with great results. Regarding the crawl – patience, patience! I had rotator cuff surgeries on either shoulder, and while the right one was more complicated, I was back to playing tennis – with overhead serve motion – after exactly 3 months and 29 days. BUT that motion, somewhat similar to a crawl stroke, was only a limited amount of times, quite wimpy, and not continuous. Realistically, it will take about 9 months to get 90% of strength and flexibility back, and close to 1 year to be as good as new. I started with swimming backstroke after the TKR, since breaststroke was impossible due to the frog kick motion, and have worked my way up to 1/2 mile a few times a week. Perhaps someone with the same surgery who also swims can give you better information.

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Are there any nearby towns or cities where there might be swimming pool resources that you could use? Are you able to drive yet so if there was a pool ssituation you could get yourself there and back? Hang in there and don't do anything that hurts your arm–not a good sign but a signal that you shold try something else for now. Ask your PT for water exercises that are good or you might look online for some reasonable suggestions about water exercises. Or check Amazon–you might find something there in terms of a book that might have good suggestions about water exercises. Don't despair–It really does take a very long time to recover from rotator cuff surgery. When I had mine it really was about a year before I felt fully recovered. Your doctor may be giving you some questionable advice about how much and what kind of exercises you are really ready for. As my doctor said: "If it hurts don't do it!"

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@jl1940

Are there any nearby towns or cities where there might be swimming pool resources that you could use? Are you able to drive yet so if there was a pool ssituation you could get yourself there and back? Hang in there and don't do anything that hurts your arm–not a good sign but a signal that you shold try something else for now. Ask your PT for water exercises that are good or you might look online for some reasonable suggestions about water exercises. Or check Amazon–you might find something there in terms of a book that might have good suggestions about water exercises. Don't despair–It really does take a very long time to recover from rotator cuff surgery. When I had mine it really was about a year before I felt fully recovered. Your doctor may be giving you some questionable advice about how much and what kind of exercises you are really ready for. As my doctor said: "If it hurts don't do it!"

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Yes, great advice…my PT tells me to only go to the point of tension. I am just frustrated. I am a super active person…3 1/2 months post op and I want to "rock and roll". When I read your comment about being only at 90% at 9 months, it hit me that I have a long way to go yet. And I know that; my surgeon had told me when I had surgery that I needed to be patient. I just remember what I did before surgery and what I can't do now. I just have a melt down once in awhile. And I do realize that there is not a specific protocol for swimming after rc surgery; everyone is different in how they are healing, what type of rc surgery that they had, and how motivated they are. I do ALL of my exercises twice a day; I am at the pool twice a week "swimming" (breast stroke, side stroke, back stroke without arms) 3/4 mile. My surgeon is awesome in that he is willing to follow me for more months just to make sure that I get swimming again (they usually cut patients after the 3 month post-op period). My PT is awesome in that he is trying to shake my swimming up each time ("try a waist belt, try treading water"). I am just going through a rough stretch right now. And I truly appreciate your comments about being patient.

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I'm with you. Had rotator cuff surgery with bicep tear on Oct. 1. I can play golf with no pain but can't seem to get back to tennis which is my passion. Will I ever be able to play again?

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@svengland

I'm with you. Had rotator cuff surgery with bicep tear on Oct. 1. I can play golf with no pain but can't seem to get back to tennis which is my passion. Will I ever be able to play again?

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@svengland: You may have seen one of my earlier posts? Yes, you can go back to playing tennis. I was back on the court (level 3.5, ladies doubles) 2 days shy of the 4 month mark. Powder puff serve, but true overhead serve. Around 6-7 months I was getting close to where I was before the surgery.
Considering that I had a torn rotator cuff, a bone spur, and an irreparably damaged bicep tendon that had to be severed, it proves that time, and persistence, does help.

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@ellerbracke

@svengland: You may have seen one of my earlier posts? Yes, you can go back to playing tennis. I was back on the court (level 3.5, ladies doubles) 2 days shy of the 4 month mark. Powder puff serve, but true overhead serve. Around 6-7 months I was getting close to where I was before the surgery.
Considering that I had a torn rotator cuff, a bone spur, and an irreparably damaged bicep tendon that had to be severed, it proves that time, and persistence, does help.

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Thanks for the encouragement but why can't I play tennis after 10 months!!! Anyway, I head to the doctor in two weeks to see if there is some medical reason I still hurt. Going to ask for more PT and an MRI just to make sure I didn't do something to set me back. So glad you are able to play. Most people I've talked to are like you and can play which is why I'm concerned that I can't play. I'll keep everyone posted.

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I had rotator cuff surgery on both shoulders 6 months apart and I swim. I also started with doing breast stroke and side stroke. It took me 6 months to be able to do the crawl and even then it took time to regain the strength – I was doing one lap only, then working towards two etc. My advice – Don’t push it – you don’t want to end up in surgery again. It will come but I needed to have patience with myself and take it slow as I didn’t want to blow the surgery and go through all this again. You’ll get there but take it slow. It’s worth it.

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