If you’re used to working out, sustaining any kind of injury can be very frustrating. Here at Thames Shoulder and Elbow, we treat many different types of shoulder injuries and one of the questions we’re asked most often is “how soon can I get back to the gym?”
We understand the desire to maintain your fitness levels and get back to doing what you love, but we would always urge caution as doing too much too soon can set back your recovery and may lead to an even more serious injury in some cases.
Listen to your medical team
The most important thing is to listen to your medical team as they understand most about the type and severity of the injury you have sustained and what would be the best approach for you in the long term.
Step by step to get back to the gym
However, here are a few general rules of thumb that you can use to determine when you might be able to get back to the gym again:
- Get a proper diagnosis: This is important because unless you know the type and severity of the injury you’ve sustained, you won’t know what type of treatment is best. Certain symptoms are common for different shoulder injuries so it’s important, in the first instance, to get the problem diagnosed.
- There is no hard and fast rule: As frustrating as it can be to hear that, how quickly you can get back to the gym (or to any of your normal activities) will depend on the nature of the injury, the type of procedure/repair you might have undergone and how well you heal.
- Start slowly: For most significant injuries or surgical procedures, such as labral repairs or rotator cuff repairs, in the first few weeks after surgery you should rest the affected area and only perform passive movements (in other words, you use the other hand to move your operated arm). Your physiotherapist may suggest doing pendulum swings, which involves gently circling the arm clockwise and counter-clockwise while leaning with your other hand on a surface to support you. This will help to increase the range of motion without causing any damage. It’s important to relax into the movement rather than trying to force it.
- Follow a rehabilitation programme: Rehabilitation aims to help you recover as fast and fully as possible. Four weeks after an injury or surgical procedure, you will normally be able to progress from passive movements to more active movements to begin re-engaging the rotator cuff and scapular muscles. You may be given a set of pulleys to use at home to encourage the arm to begin moving again. This process may be painful at first but it is an important step on the road to recovery.
- After 8 weeks begin light exercises: By this stage of your recovery, you should be able to actively move the shoulder without assistance. It is vital to take it slowly and to recognise that your muscles will need time to build up strength and flexibility again. For example, when you lift your arm above your head you may notice the head of the humerus bone “riding up” and restricting full movement. This is because the rotator cuff muscles are still weak and cannot fully control the shoulder. Over time this will start to improve.
- By 12 weeks, you may be able to introduce light resistance exercises, however, you should only use very light weights, such as light hand-held weights or resistance bands. If you experience a sharp pain, stop immediately and wait for a few days before trying again.
- After 16 weeks if you have made a good recovery you should be able to start resistance and weight training but always take the advice of your medical team and if they say you are not ready then don’t risk it. It’s important to take a balanced approach to strength training, avoid prioritising the pectoral and deltoid muscles over the other muscles around the shoulder such as the rotator cuff and latissimus dorsi. You may continue to experience some pain or weakness in the affected area for up to a year after shoulder surgery. Some ongoing light strength training is a good idea to build strength and flexibility in the rotator cuff and scapular muscles.
Orthopaedic Consultant & Surgeon | London
If you sustain an injury, it is important to seek professional help. An orthopaedic surgeon can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend the most effective type of treatment, which may include surgery.
Contact us to speak to a shoulder and elbow specialist if you have sustained a shoulder injury or would like advice about rehabilitation after an injury, contact Thames Shoulder and Elbow.
Telephone: 020 376 15987