I’ve compiled a few stories from other climbers with injuries similar to mine.
The toughest decision I had to make with my injuries was whether or not to pursue surgery. That decision was made much easier by hearing first-hand stories of how others felt before, during, and after their own surgery, and a few folks who decided not to get it.
If you have shoulder problems, good news: you’re in good company, and there’s lots to read about it. Here’s some selected online stories. If you know others, please send them to me or add to the comments below.
Beth Rodden is a hero of mine since long before I hurt my shoulders, and if you haven’t seen her blog, stop reading this and go there first. Beth suffered an acute labral tear in 2009, not long after putting up the hardest pitch in Yosemite. Her blog has lucid accounts of that and several other climbing injuries, amazing photos, great interviews, and an enlightening perspective on being driven by climbing and by other aspects of life. A great read.
Patxi Usobiaga had shoulder surgery for a SLAP tear from an acute dislocation in 2009, and was back climbing less than 3 months later. Early on he worried that he would have to retire from hard climbing, but came back at the highest level. Patxi is very deliberate in how he trains and conditions himself for climbing, and I was interested that he went in for surgery almost immediately after getting his MRI. Great reading.
Neely Quinn has some very nice info on her surgery and this is where I first heard a strong argument for biceps tenodesis in climbers. Her site trainingbeta.com is a great resource for recovery and training exercises (though I’m not quite at that stage yet). It highlights where the community has come in coaching and developing ‘climbing as sport’. Check out the site! Update: I heard from Yuki (below) that Neely is getting her second shoulder done, hopefully it will go well and we’ll hear more about it.
Jason Halladay tore his rotator cuff, went in for that surgery, and was given a biceps tenodesis as a gametime bonus (no SLAP repair). He was back to lead climbing within 2 months. He says his shoulder feels as strong or stronger after the operation than before the injury. Jason also has a SLAP tear in his other shoulder, and last I contacted him he had yet to get the surgery but thinks it would improve his climbing. Many climbers with MRI-diagnosed SLAP tears don’t get surgery and feel ok, though I think it’s easy to adapt to a new normal and not realize how much your performance is suffering, or how much you’re damaging your joints.
Hazel Findlay had a SLAP repair in 2015, and has nicely written thoughts that delve into the mental aspects of recovery and what it feels like to climb again after the surgery.
Yuki Kuroda wrote a report one year out from a tenodesis and SLAP repair, with clear descriptions of her symptoms, the surgery, and the recovery. Her injury seemed more chronic than acute. She had some issues with pain during her recovery and has interesting insights. She had the surgery in Squamish, and has recommendations for injured climbers near Vancouver.
Kris Hampton had chronic shoulder damage, including a full thickness rotator cuff tear. He got that fixed, plus a SLAP repair and tenodesis. He bouldered past his previous limits 9 months later.
Chris Webb Parsons, a pro climber, famously wrecked his shoulder, got it fixed, didn’t climb at all for 9 months, then came back bouldering well into double digit V-grades less than a year after surgery. I don’t know the details of his injuries but that sounds like a successful recovery.
If you know someone who’s had the surgery or have had it yourself, I’d love to hear about it!