Bad shoulders, worse news

Hi all. I got the results of my shoulder MRIs, and I’m in store for two surgeries. The first is next Wednesday. My shoulders have been hurting for a long time, and it turns out there’s no prize for being tough.

Left shoulder
I had the labrum repaired in 2002. The shoulder has felt tight, notchy and painful since then, but I’ve been pushing through tons of racing, riding, feats of strength and everything else. But for what benefit?

– Dozens of particles are floating around the joint capsule, “acting like sandpaper.” The doctor says they could be bone, cartilage, who knows, but they are tearing things up. These must be removed.

– There’s a huge bone spur on the head of my humerus, caused by all the grit. That must be ground off. Doc says this will hurt.

– The “socket” bone is starting to crumble. Crumble! Nothing can be done about this. I heard the doctor say “blah blah blah eventually need a shoulder replacement.”

Good news: The muscles are all in great shape. I’d feel better about that, but all that activity has apparently torn my shoulder to pieces.

The doc operates next Wednesday. He says I’ll regain my range and strength as quickly as pain allows. I’ll try not to push it too hard.

Right shoulder
I broke the clavicle in 2003. Three months later, the doc tugged on my arm and said the bone was healed but crooked. Turned out it never healed at all, and the only thing holding the arm on is muscle. Yeah, it hurts. Yeah, I do stuff anyway. The MRI revealed:

– The non-unified clavicle. The ends must ground down, pinned together and encouraged to heal.

– A severely torn labrum (the cup that holds the head of your humerus). It’s torn off the bone. The doctor seemed impressed in a horrified way; he looked the same when I re-located my own dislocated thumb by pulling on it and slamming it on my moto handlebar. The labrum must be pinned back in place.

– “A loose body” that is 15mm in diameter. That’s big. It must be trapped and removed.

Oh yeah: The muscles are in great shape.

The right shoulder will get fixed when the left shoulder is ready to take over. I’ll be completely immobilized or four weeks, then it’ll take months to regain pseudo-normal function. Next summer’s riding is in serious jeopardy. It’s time to rock the Rollerblades!

The lesson
I frankly feel pretty dumb.

Yeah, I’ve been training consistently, and I’m good at working through pain, but to what effect? I’ve damaged myself even more over the years, and I’ve created serious long term issues.

It’s time to admit that, somewhere way down there, I believe I deserve pain, and the only way to redeem myself is to suffer. Looks like I’ll have plenty of time to mull this over — while I’m laying down base miles on my recumbent!!!

Be kind to yourselves.

— Lee

16 replies
  1. Bob I says:

    Wow! I thought my shoulder was messed up. Torn labrum and fracture in my scapula 2 years back and broken clavicle last April. Just today I had the clavicle x-rayed and it still isn’t totally healed. If by mid-January it isn’t fully healed the doctors says surgery. At least I will have a straight clavicle without a goose egg. But the good news is that I have no pain and I rocked Whistler for 6 weeks this past summer. Almost forgot about the broken pinkie at Northshore last summer. Yes, I suck at riding. But it has been all worth it.

    Yes, it sucks to have the surgery. But it is clear you are one tough dude and will be back. If you still lived in the Bay Area I could lend you my cold machine and electrical bone stimulator.

    Good luck. Hopefully you will be back on the road in no time.

  2. Zen Turtle says:

    Surgery sucks, but you gotta do what’s right.
    It’s unbelievable how many bikers have they shoulders messed up. My dad broke his collarbone in a road bike race 52 years ago (which ended his racing career) and still has plates and screws as a reminder. I separated both my shoulders (grade 3 and 1) – be kind to yourself, but at the same time there is no need to save our bodies for our next life (we’ll get a new body there, right?)…

    Best of luck man: looking to the bright side (for me at least): is this going to accelerate the release of the book 😉

  3. Jeff says:

    That’s a super impressive list of injuries there!

    Heal up well, find a smart physiotherapist, and be hyper aware of any body compensations in how you move. It seems like you’re really good at compensating, and have a huge pain threshold, which got you to this current situation.

    You want to get your mobility and strength back. Remember that proper movement heals, and improper biomechanics eventually leads to injury.

    You’re gonna be better than ever!


  4. Paul Fid says:

    I just had my 3rd shoulder surgery a few weeks ago. Torn labrum and the same bone issues you have. The dr. went in and cleaned things up. 4 weeks in, I can tell you that things feel a lot better already. Good time to get work done, so we can come back strong for the season come spring. Good luck!

  5. tony says:

    don’t want to jinx myself by saying I sympathize with you, but my left wing is ailing too. prolly separated ac, maybe other stuff too. Football, weight lifting and mtb…what’s a shoulder to do?

    I’m laying off heavy weights (but have found lifting to help more than hurt it). lots of tubing exercises, postural work with scapula retractions, ice and advil when needed….

    My sister had a failed shoulder implant and now has about 20% use of one arm. the other arm is now whacked from the extra work load…I’m really not looking forward to any kind of shoulder surgery. ever. Being a Catholic, I think I’ll just suffer through it all as penance for all my sins on and off the bike…

    healing vibes to you, Lee. I’m looking forward to all the geeky, technical medical write ups from you (including quicktime version of the surgeries!)

  6. Chris says:

    And now I know the reason why the posts on this MTB site have the best grammar, punctuation and spelling.

    I just wrote a sentence starting with ‘and’. Take that, Sister Carmel!

    Heal fast dude!

  7. leelikesbikes says:

    Sometimes you have to go big.

    Beginning a sentence with a conjunction is the grammatical equivalent of a 10-foot huck to flat.

    But you better pray a rosary, just to be safe … 🙂

  8. cranky says:


    …Crumble! Nothing can be done about this…

    …gotta raise this issue — what about your diet?

    Are you a soda drinker? Sodas are a known cause of osteoporosis — yes, you could have a problem: an article in Bicycling a while back said bikers are at risk of osteoporosis due to low impact exercise combined with sweat leaching out the body’s minerals. Diet soda, even worse.

    Too much refined sugars (in 90% of food)?
    Getting your veggies (best source of calcium etc)?

    Changing your diet is hard. Personally, I try to drop one (and only one) bad food habit every couple months (starting with diet soda!) and after five years of this (starting at age 50, overweight, with a case of chronic fatigue etc), I feel better than, well, ever.

    It’s time to admit that, somewhere way down there, I believe I deserve pain…

    Dan Coyle’s great book, “Lance Armstrong’s War”, has a riff on bikers and pain tolerance and the deep psychological needs that drive the great cycling champions. I don’t know if we (all bikers, not necessarily the great ones) love pain, but we laugh at it!

    One of the attractions to biking, to me, is the challenge to master and rise above this “monkey” body we have been given. My body is Scotty, and I’m Captain Kirk. “I need more power!” “She’ll blow up for sure!” “That’s a chance I’ll have to take!” (stolen from somebody — you maybe?). Not just power of course, but balance & flexibility & coordination & attitude & everything else.

    [quote=Zen Turtle]
    no need to save our bodies for our next life

    …yes, but it would be good to keep a serviceable body for a good long time in this one. To be older is to at least have a chance to become wiser. I want to have a good quality of life for as long as possible. When I can’t MTB, I’ll road ride maybe, or hike; then maybe tai chi, until finally at the end I’ll catch up on my reading.

    I try think of injuries & illness as “challenges”, as in “challenge = opportunity” to improve as a human bein’. Start takin’ better care of myself, et cetera.

    You also have to become an expert at your particular problem: no one cares more about your body than you do, especially not any doctor. Do your research. I got 2 search phrases for starters: “dr. mike roizen owner’s manual” and “mike adams natural news”.

    “The Cyclist’s Training Bible” has a chapter on “Masters” racers. The author, Joe Friel, has a theory about food-caused blood acidity causing bone (& muscle) wasting. Sounded weird at first, but now I believe!

    Ride on! Sorry about the lecture. People hate lectures. In fact, when I was your age, [MESSAGE LENGTH EXCEEDED]

  9. o says:


    Sorry to hear this. The thing is, as we grow older, our bodies become another issue.

    You have issues with shoulders, other people have knees, some have diabetes and other people develop partial deafness and are loosing their sense of balance.

    Everyone has their share of bugs, and no one learns from other folks experience (as I type this, I neglect my injured thumb that aches for 3 months now from the last Downieville crash). But…

    The thing is: better late than never. Remember – you dont have weaknesses, you have future strengths.

    Cheer up, you have many years of life before you. Time to start paying attention to the unusual requests our bodies push on us, though. We are growing older.

  10. Troy Cooperman says:

    What is up fellow OG? Hope all goes well with the operations my friend! Give me a ring and I’ll take you out for a beer and a good BS session Lee! T-Coop PS UCI gave me my pro upgrade in both ‘O’ boy time to play with the big boys!

  11. jimmy says:

    Find a good Physical Therapist. Especially one who works with athletes. I came back from Whistler with a sore shoulder. I normally let nature take it’s course and heal but I knew I probably rode too much (can’t help it, it’s Whistler) and screwed something up. I was amazed at all the weak muscles I have because I only ride and don’t train. PT convince me to do certain exercise to strengthen the shoulder to prevent future injuries.

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