Under the Knife

March 19th, 2009 | Posted in General


By the time this blog entry gets posted, I should be sitting in the pre-op area waiting to get surgery to repair one of my left rotator cuff tendons.

The decision to get the surgery did not come lightly.

I actually already have a decent tear in the same tendon in my right shoulder. That injury happened about 22 years ago. I was weightlifting in the basement of our apartment complex with a couple of roommates in Minneapolis. during the slow downward movement of a barbell behind-the-neck press, I felt a searing pain in my right shoulder and I dropped the weights as my shoulder completely lost strength. I was only a 20 year old college student with no money and no health insurance, so I did not go to the doctor. Instead I just lived with the pain, which lessened over the course of the next few months. I didn’t try to lift weights again for about 15 years, but I could function daily without any major pain. It only hurt when I worked my shoulder too hard lifting or moving things.

About seven years ago I started getting serious about weightlifting again. My shoulder instantly started giving me problems. An MRI revealed I had partially torn the tendon that connects the supraspinatus muscle to my humerus, one of four such small muscles and tendons that together are called the rotator cuff. Fortunately the tear was only 50% to 70% of the way through the tendon, so part of the tendon was still there and the supraspinatus was still partially connected and working somewhat. Exercises to strengthen the other three rotator cuff muscles, icing and ibuprofen when needed made that shoulder manageable. I have had some success in the bodybuilding/powerlifting department despite the bum right shoulder.

In November I was doing some shoulder exercises when on vacation in Jamaica, specifically lateral raises, with what I THOUGHT was 22 lb dumb bells. Turns out Jamaica is on the metric system, and they were actually 22 KG, or about 50 lbs. I felt my left shoulder go after two reps, and by the next day using my left arm was extremely painful.

After a few months of trying to rehab it, I decided to see a shoulder specialist. Another MRI later, and it was found that I had torn the same supraspinatus tendon on the left side… this time a complete tear. Both that surgeon and another specialist I sought a second opinion from told me a complete tear like that would give me a permanent loss of power, strength and range of motion in my left arm, and rehab would not have the same results as it did on the right. My supraspinatus muscle was completely disconnected from my humerus, and it would begin to atrophy if not repaired soon.

So, today I get it fixed via arthoscopic surgery. Basically they grab the loose end of the tendon, pull it over and suture it back to the humerus. They also remove any bone spurs and will take a look at my biceps tendon as well in case that’s damaged. I will be in a sling for 6 weeks, rehabing for 6 months and it may be as long as 9 to 12 months before I regain full strength in my left shoulder.

I figure one year from now I will be glad I got the surgery done. The next 6 months, however… won’t be much fun. Obviously I won’t be doing anything with my left arm in the gym for some time. Just for kicks, I am going to try and see how big I can get my RIGHT arm while my left is out of business and shrinks considerably. That would be an interesting picture!


  1. Howie says:

    Good luck, Tom! I hope you have a speedy recovery!

  2. Bearman says:

    Best of luck in your recovery!!

  3. Mark Engblom says:

    Best wishes for a successful surgery and a quicker-than-expected recovery. I myself have been struggling with a minor tendon tear in right shoulder (why the RIGHT shoulder?!), but it seems to be getting better with therapy and some ergonomic workspace upgrades.

    Hopefully you and cortizone will become better acquainted over the next half year.

  4. K McNutt says:

    Best of luck, Tom.

  5. Nate says:

    Hope everything works out well!

  6. Rick Wright says:

    Good luck Tom. I know it won’t slow you down too much, but take it easy and don’t try to come back too fast.

  7. Jeff Zugale says:

    You may not want to do that right-arm overbuild thing, Tom…


    But, best of luck today and sincere wishes for a speedy recovery!

  8. Metal says:

    Sure hope all goes good!! Best wishes toward a speedy recovery!!

  9. Good luck! Hope the surgery goes well and you are on the mend soon.

  10. Monty says:

    Let’s see if I can come up with something more original than ‘Good Luck.’

    Best wishes? No…sounds like a holiday greeting. Break a leg? No, that’s kind of adding insult to injury. Take care? No sounds, like you’re going away.

    Aw hell….GOOD LUCK!

  11. jimbodraw says:

    Good luck Tom!

  12. MIke Kudna says:

    That is one hell of a sketch, and i HAVE FUN!!!! haahaaha

  13. Mugshotz says:

    Hope it went well Tom. You’ll have to come up with a good story about why you are wearing a sling…. ie. saved a kid from a burning building, or fought off Ninjas… or beat up a grizzly bear attacking a family… or you got shot since FBI agents thought you were a biological weapon.

  14. OUCH! Sorry you’re having to get that done. I separated my shoulder playing rugby a few years ago and understand how painful shoulder injuries can be. At least it’s not your drawing arm! I had to use a wacom tablet with my upper arm strapped to my torso for about 4 weeks. It definitely has an effect on your drawing. 🙂

    Have a speedy recovery!


  15. Tom says:

    Thanks for the well wishes, everybody. The surgery went very well, and other than feeling like
    I have a Rambo knife stuck 3 inches deep into my shoulder, all is well!

  16. Diwakar Chettri says:

    Nice to know that your surgery was fine. Hope your recovery will be quick too! Get well soon, Tom.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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