How I Rehabbed my Dislocated Shoulder and Getting at the Root of the Problem

NancyHang

By Nancy Meenen A year ago I dislocated my right shoulder. I had decided to participate in my first weightlifting meet. I had been doing the Olympic lifts for years but decided to try them in “public”. It was 5 days before the meet and we were working on snatches. During class I had finally mustered the courage to do the weight I had been aiming for. I did it! And it felt great. I decided to do one last snatch for the day at a lower weight. This one didn’t feel so great. In fact, it felt pretty wrong. I threw the weight down and went over to the instructor and asked him to put my shoulder back in. For whatever reason it didn’t really hurt, but it wasn’t comfortable! The instructor calmly went over and got another instructor who had a bit more experience with this sort of thing and he worked my arm and shoulder until it popped back in. Ah, much better! (Thanks Mike and Scott!)

I had to sit down because my vision started narrowing. It just so happened that a physical therapist was doing class at the same time and she came over and checked me out. I had full range of motion and nothing really hurt. It was just tender. After a bit, I got up, put my jacket on and decided to call it a day. No meet for me. I was bummed.

I was bummed but also really surprised. My shoulders have always been one of my better assets. I have uber, unhealthy, tight hamstrings that I fight with constantly. My shoulders, though, are quite flexible and I have always been able to get into a decent overhead squat. I had been doing all kinds of snatching for years but had never felt any pain or instability in my shoulders. I needed to find out what was really going on.

I am lucky enough to have lived and breathed gym life for years and have access to all sorts of good advice and training. My husband has had shoulder issues for years and is constantly doing research to understand the process of strengthening shoulders. Was this a sympathy injury?! Regardless, I had to start the journey of getting my shoulder back to 100%.

After a week or so I returned to the gym and just did what I could. I did lots of stretching with a band that was attached to a pull-up bar. I did some very light pressing with Barbie doll weights to see how things felt. And then 6 weeks after I had dislocated it, I did some very controlled inactive hanging from a pull-up bar. I lowered myself down very slowly. It felt intense but it felt really good and really right. I was on my way.

When I noticed my strength returning to my shoulder after about 2 months, I focused on 4 exercises: • inactive and active hanginghandstand wall walks and holdsring plankswaiters walk

Hanging is probably the thing I have done most because I bought myself a “door gym” and hung it up at my house. I put it in a strategic doorway that I pass through most often. It’s easy to build up stamina in the hang if you do it often enough. And it’s great for your grip.

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Before I got injured I had been able to hold a chest to wall handstand for at least a minute. After my injury I could only hold it for about 5 seconds before I felt my right shoulder complaining. But that was all I needed to start building back my handstand endurance. Walking up and down the wall to get into position for the handstand was great for my shoulder.

Of the 4 exercises, holding a ring plank was the hardest one for me. It seemed like it should have been easy but my shoulder seemed to panic in this position. Overtime my shoulder realized this exercise wasn’t going away and it adapted.

I liked doing the waiters walk because I felt like I was teaching my shoulder to be fine with bearing weight and being in motion.

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My shoulder feels great today but I am very interested in this dislocation thing never happening again. For a good while I have noticed that my right side, particularly my right leg and ankle, were weaker and more unstable than my left. When I do split squats this becomes very apparent. When I do windmills, my left side is much more stable and I can get down farther than on my right. And so on. What to do?

Work it – that’s what. I have started to add in more unilateral work. The kind that makes me go wow! I have been doing split squats, one legged deadlifts and calf raises. I’ve been focusing mostly on my right side. The calf raises are something I’ve known I should be doing for years because I have flat feet. Unfortunately, it has taken an injury to wake me up! Thankfully, it’s never too late to get stronger.

Nancy Meenen is the co-owner of the world’s first CrossFit affiliate gym, Level 4 CrossFit Seattle, and is a co-owner of the fitness website moveSKILL.com.