Postponing surgery

I just read a bit out of your shoulder chronicles, and as it turns out I find myself in exactly the same position, almost. I didn’t break any bones but I have torn all the ligaments that connect my clavicle and scapula. I can ride but only feel about 75 percent right now, but I am still competitive (I took forth in DS at Chalk Creek last weekend in Expert 19-30) which deepens my mental strife.

I am looking full on at throwing away everything I have worked toward this year if I have surgery now, not to mention work and such, or I can limp through the season, risk the possibility of further injury and get cut up in the fall.

I have been talking to a lot of people trying to figure this out, and just wanted to know what your decision was and why. My goal for the season is to be in semi-pro by next year, and even with my injury it looks like it might be possible so I am having a really, really hard time trying to figure out what to do. Your two cents would be greatly appreciated.


Hey Dan,

My decision

The good news: My PT was so good I fooled my doctor into thinking the bone had healed.

To recap: I am missing two big ligaments that connect my clavicle to my scapula, plus I’m missing the clavicle itself. I broke the clavicle about four years ago, and it never healed. Turns out the only thing holding my right arm onto my body is muscle. I feel strong, but I get very sore, and the constant movements and noises are unnerving. The doctor says the wrong crash can do serious damage. He wants to rebuild everything. The recovery will be long and arduous, kind of like yours.

Getting hurt sucks. One day you’re healthy, the next day you’re useless. Setting a date for surgery is even harder, because you force that change on yourself. Today I feel awesome; I want to feel terrible next Tuesday.

I decided to postpone my surgery until Fall. Why:

– I need my shoulders to pay the bills. I have a book coming out, and this is my busy coaching season. Surgery now would end all that.

Rocking the Lory State Park pump track last year. Check out that right shoulder. Yuck, I had no idea.

– The number one risk factor for serious MTB injuries is being a racer. Racers are 10 times more likely to need hospitalization than non-racers (10X!!!). That’s a huge difference, and it’s because racers are always pushing, even in training.

– I figure if I lay off the racing, big dirt jumps and full-on DH, I can do my work, stay in shape and have fun — and keep my shoulders pretty safe. I plan to get cut in the Fall, and I plan to enter the surgery in excellent shape. That will aid the recovery.

– Some people would say postponing my surgery was a crazy decision, but I guess we all do things for our own reasons. Now that I know what’s going on in my shoulder, I have way less tolerance for the pain and noises, and sometimes wish it was already fixed. But I’ve made my decision.

As for you

My 2002 surgery SUCKED, then the shoulder felt good for a few years, and now it’s starting to suck again. My new doctor says the old surgery created a lot of scar tissue.

– Racing is serious business. If you’re in it to win it, you have to show up completely free of worry and give it 100 percent. You cannot worry about crashing. Any concerns are going to create tension, which will retard your performance and — probably — make you crash and really hurt yourself. My opinion: Do not race unless you can really give it. (Of course, I’m racing BMX, but that’s for the book … do as I say, not as I do.)

– Turning semi-pro is no reason to endanger yourself. I know the upgrade seems like a big deal from where you’re sitting, but — and please take this the right way — semipro ain’t shit. I have a semi-pro license, and I’m a pretty decent rider, but the first time you race Milan, Hanak and Watt in 4X, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you are not KILLING expert, you will get blasted in semi and demolished in pro/semi. Don’t rush the upgrade.

– Say you race this season, then get your upgrade. Are you gonna race semipro with a jacked up shoulder? Bad idea. Are you gonna try to debut in semipro while recovering from surgery? Dude — stepping up is enough when you’re healthy.

– Surgery is serious business. Once they go in there, you will not be the same. Your shoulder will get strong, and you’ll probably have less pain, but the recovery will suck, and you’ll likely have problems later. I had my left shoulder done in 2002 (torn labrum), and now it’s a real bastard. Despite my right shoulder’s issues, it’s still my “good shoulder.” Don’t get surgery unless you need it.

– It sounds like you need it. In my opinion, you should get your shoulder fixed before you upgrade to semipro.

Option 1: Race this year in expert. Fix your shoulder in the off season. Return to expert next year.

Option 2: Get the surgery now and resume racing next year. This is the smarter decision, but I can’t lead you where I haven’t gone.

Either way, you’re going semipro for the 2010 Mountain States Cup. Don’t be in a hurry. You have plenty of time, and when you step up you’ll be more ready. Watt, Hanak, Milan .. they ain’t nuthin’!

Good luck, take care and tell me how it goes,

— Lee

(Just ripped Hall Ranch, and it felt great.)

4 replies
  1. Dan says:

    I talked to the surgeon again last night and he told me he would be doing a Modified Weaver Dunn operation. Is this what you had done in 2002? His conservative estimate is two and a half months before I can return to pretty much normal function. I’m thinking early June right now for the wound that heals, but I’m not 100% decided. I’m just starting to come to the conclusion that I need to get fixed, but I’m finding it extremely hard to stay off my bikes already and I’m only taking a one week break. Thanks for the talk Lee. It is helping me to hear it from as many “comarades” as possible, people that don’t ride don’t get it.

  2. Sean says:

    Dan —

    I have had bad shoulder injuries on both sides, but no surgical repair. I have one permanent injury as a result — right side clavicle is permanently detached at the sternum. I also have some damage to the rotator cuff on the right shoulder. These problems create some weakness and instability. The other injuries healed fairly well (left scapula fracture).

    Down at the knee level, I’ve had multiple surgeries on the right knee, and one surgery on the left one. Both have had ACL reconstruction. I have many friends who have suffered ACL tears, and a few who have had reconstruction and then tried to get back into their sports (alpine skiing, MTB riding/racing) too early.

    The worst thing about going at something hard when you need surgical repair is that you feel that your limited (less than 100%) ability beats couch-surfing. That’s one way to look at it, for sure. But what about the down-side? Re-injure the shoulder and do more damage? Is that a good thing?

    Most orthopaedists I have worked with have been former competitive athletes themselves, and they realize how important it is for us athletically-motivated people to remain active, especially in our chosen sports. I have never had a surgeon suggest “working with what I have” in favor of getting needed surgical repair. Every one of them has said that the further injury will be worse than the year-off from post-op rehab. My own experience, and the experience of watching friends in similar situations, confirms that the surgeons were telling me valuable things.

    What I would suggest to you is to get the surgery ASAP because the sooner you get it, the sooner you will be able to get to 100% on the bike. It will be tough for sure to sit out a season when you worked hard to race this year in a new class, but there are ways to keep connected to the bike. One thing you can do is ride a trainer when your shoulder is healing — being stronger and more fit on the bike is always good for you. Always. And it’s still riding, of a sort. You can set up the trainer in front of a TV and play back some of your favorite DVDs. I like to watch old Tour de France videos when I ride the trainer. But that’s probably because I was a roadie before I rode MTBs, way back before I realized MTBs were much more fun.

    Get the surgery, and hang tough this year. Follow your orthopaedist’s rehab to the letter, and come back next season with more drive and better fitness.

  3. Dan says:

    Man Sean its sounds like you ought to practice the ole tuck and role. Maybe when can practice it togeter when I’m healed.

    All jokes aside thanks for your insite I’m pretty sure I need to call the Doc now.

  4. Guilherme Reis says:

    Hey Dan, how’re you doing?

    I gotta back a few hours ago from the orthopaedist and I just find out that my femur has an overbuid neck. This causes an inconvinient constant pain on my acetabulum (it s a part of the hip joint) because it get pinched by my femurs neck. I have an Whistler trip booked and paid and lately I`ve been training harder and harder to get most out of it. But now I have get off my bike for two months and do some phisioterapy so I can get my acetabulum in shape again. Once I get back from Whiz I have to get a surgery to correct my femurs neck so its stop pinching the acetabulumm. Otherwise it might get completely screwed up and I might have to end my relantionship with MTB and every other sport that I pratice. But doctor said if I have the surgery done, I have 90% chances of getting as good as new, with the benefit of not having this problem any time soon (maybe forever). So what I mean is, think about it, and if you really like to ride bikes, half a season to an year off is not that bad. Think that you might be ending your carreer pretty soon if you screwe up your shoulder ligaments. Its a very complex joint and very hard to fix properly if get really messed up. I’ve had problems with both knees and shoulders. Never have to go to surgery before, but they healed pretty well and actually are stronger then ever now. I have being going to phisioterapy for the last two years and it worth it. Before you can blink yours eyes your be good and stronger then ever. Just take proper care of your shoulder. Once you get our surgery done, do try to get the fast lane to recovery, because it might be shortest way to injury again.

    Good luck buddy and heal well!

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