Returning to the Ice: A Journey Through Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery and Physiotherapy

In February, we shared a case where a 57-year-old retired athletic male experienced a left rotator cuff tendon tear, due to fall while playing hockey. This blog chronicles the inspiring recovery of a patient who, after undergoing this surgery and diligently following a 12-week physiotherapy program, triumphantly returned to the hockey rink.

Understanding Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is used to diagnose and treat a variety of shoulder problems. This procedure involves small incisions through which a camera and specialized instruments are inserted, allowing the surgeon to repair damage within the joint. Common issues addressed include rotator cuff tears, labral tears, and impingement syndrome. The minimally invasive nature of the surgery often results in less pain and a quicker recovery compared to traditional open surgery.

The Patient’s Journey: From Surgery to Recovery

Week 1-2: Immediate Post-Surgery Phase

· Rest and Initial Healing: The first two weeks post-surgery focus on pain management and protecting the surgical site. The patient wore a sling to immobilize the shoulder, reducing strain on the healing tissues.

· Gentle Movements: While major movements were restricted, the patient performed gentle wrist, hand, and elbow exercises to maintain mobility and circulation in the arm.

Week 3-4: Early Physiotherapy

· Introduction to Physiotherapy: Physiotherapy began with passive range-of-motion exercises. The therapist gently moved the patient’s arm to prevent stiffness without stressing the healing tissues.

· Pain Management: Continued use of prescribed pain medications and ice therapy to manage discomfort.

Week 5-8: Gradual Increase in Activity

· Active-Assisted Exercises: The patient started performing exercises with the therapist’s assistance.

· Strengthening: Gradual introduction of isometric exercises to begin rebuilding shoulder strength without causing stress on the repair site.

Week 9-12: Advanced Rehabilitation

· Active Range-of-Motion Exercises: The patient began moving their arm independently, progressing to more complex movements and increased range.

Strengthening and Conditioning: Introduction of resistance bands and light weights to further strengthen the shoulder muscles. Focus on rebuilding endurance and stability.

· Sport-Specific Drills: In the final phase, the physiotherapist incorporated hockey-specific drills to prepare the patient for the demands of the sport.

Return to Play

After completing the 12-week physiotherapy program, the patient was evaluated by both the surgeon and physiotherapist. Key criteria for return to play included:

· Full Range of Motion: The patient regained near-complete range of motion in the shoulder.

· Strength and Stability: The shoulder demonstrated adequate strength and stability to withstand the physical demands of hockey.

· Pain-Free Movement: The patient could perform hockey-specific movements without pain.

With the green light from his medical team, the patient returned to the ice. The journey from surgery to playing hockey again was a testament to his dedication and the efficacy of a structured rehabilitation program.

Key Takeaways

1. Early Mobilization: Initiating physiotherapy early, even with passive movements, helps prevent stiffness and promotes healing.

2. Gradual Progression: Recovery should follow a structured plan that gradually increases activity levels to avoid overloading the healing tissues.

3. Patient Dedication: The patient’s commitment to following the rehabilitation protocol was crucial for a successful return to play.

For athletes facing similar challenges, this story is a beacon of hope. With the right medical support and personal determination, returning to the sport you love is possible.

Final Thoughts

Returning to play after arthroscopic shoulder surgery is a journey that requires patience, hard work, and expert guidance. Each step, from surgery to advanced physiotherapy, plays a vital role in ensuring a safe and effective recovery. If you’re facing a similar situation, consult with your healthcare providers to develop a tailored recovery plan and stay committed to the process.

Book with Vaughan Wellness now!


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With over 25 years experience, Djoanna Del Rosario has helped thousands of patients with a wide range of physical challenges through initial assessments, treatment plans, and implementation.

Contact her today at 416-500-8384