Would you get surgery if you were me?

Avatar for poorboy2011
iVillage Member
Registered: 10-02-2011
Would you get surgery if you were me?
Sat, 07-20-2013 - 3:15pm

I know this is not a medical board, but since I know you to be a sensible, caring bunch, I thought I could solicit your opinions to help me make a decision.

I injured my left shoulder about 15 years ago in sports. Recently as I got more physically active, it's been bothering me more. So I sought medical help. I've been diagnosed with posterior instability in my left (non-dominant) shoulder caused by a labral tear. (The shoulder is a little prone to pop out the back, and I emphasize "a little," not "prone.") I had an MRI, went to three orthopedic surgeons, and two of them came up with the same diagnosis and treatment plan. Now I'm trying to figure out whether to operate. 

My left shoulder doesn't bother me most of the time. I have a desk job rather than a physical job. I generally have no pain. What I'm trying to say is that I'm a mild case, and I can do basically all the daily activities of sedentary people.

I am moderately active -- weight lift, yoga, sports. Though I have been able to do only a limited range of that stuff, because my left shoulder has a limited ranged of motion if you put any stress on it -- carrying weight, exerting force. Anything above shoulder height is tricky, carrying a risk of re-irritating the shoulder. When that happens, I'll have to really limit the range of motion for perhaps a week or two. A doctor recommends against pushing forward or pushing upward with the left arm with any power -- for the rest of my life if I don't operate. I've basically stopped yoga, I can't do bench press or the upward press, and generally I have to be careful and avoid moving my arm above the shoulder height.

If I were a professional athlete, of course I'd operate. But I'm not sure what I should do.

Insurance will cover all the medical & rehab costs. It will be expensive during the first 4-6 weeks when my left arm will be completely useless in in a brace. I may have to hire someone to help take care of domestic chores, and I won't be able to cook.

I have a shoulder specialist who has a very good reputation. The success rate for this procedure is over 90%. I'm trying to figure out whether the pain and inconvenience is worth the gain I could see from the surgery. I am also worried that the surgery might make things worse or cause complications. I'd hate to go from "no problem with daily activities, some problems with exercise" to "problem with daily activities." 

I'm also worried about being in screaming pain, unable to care for myself. (I live alone, and most of my friends are far away.) When looking at internet accounts of labral repairs, some report the worse pain in their lives, others don't seem bothered by it. I know we all have different injuries, surgeries, bodies. But I'm not sure what to expect. I am suspecting doctors may underplay the pain. One doctor told me I'd be fine after a few days of discomfort. Another said I might need a lot of help in the first 7-10 days post-op.

Incidentally, I have tried physical therapy multiple number of times. but it doesn't fix the problem. It tightens my shoulder so it's harder for the joint to slip, but even with consistent exercise, I'll fairly quickly re-irritate the shoulder & I'm back to Square 1.

So would you operate if you were me? How would you go about making the decision?

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Sat, 07-20-2013 - 6:08pm

I can tell you that my exH had a torn rotator cuff and he did opt for surgery.  He's not one to complain a lot about pain but I think there was of course some pain but not extreme.  He had physical therapy after.  It did seem to help since before he had difficulty with things like putting on a jacket.  It's always difficult if you live alone.  I always think about that--what would I do if I had to have surgery?  You could make & freeze some meals so you wouldn't have to worry about that.  I do think if it's not repaired you are probably at a more serious risk of injuring it & tearing it worse if you don't have the surgery--I mean think of it like a tear in a fabric that's not sewn up--I'm just using logic there, I don't have a medical background.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-08-2008
Sat, 07-20-2013 - 10:12pm

I'm not sure if I shared this here or not but I had gone deaf in one of my ears over many years. Expensive hearing aids would fix it but that meant batteries for life. I had to decide if the risk of surgery (possibility of the aids no longer working and being completely deaf for life) outweighed the benefits. I literally sat down and calculated out the cost of aids - surgery for me was completely free. I lost my taste for about 6 mos, had debilitating dizzyness and everything tasted metallic. But it was a success. I still get dizzy occassionally - but it has eliminated my tinnitus (and most report an increase). I would do it again in a HEARTBEAT. It was worth it. If my other ear goes, I will do it right away.

So the questions for you are:

- can/will this get worse? is there a chance if you wait that it become too severe to be fixed? will the possibility for success reduce?

- is it costing you money in aspirin, slings and aids? (if so, this might help you feel better about any costs you are incurring).

- is there any way you can mitigate the negatives? how many frozen meals could you prepare? could you eat things like instant oatmeal that you can prepare yourself? maybe do some research on possible meal plans that you could prepare?

The one mistake I made with my surgery is not realizing how "bad" I could be after. Dh went to work for 12 hours and left me alone with the boys (aged 4 & 2 at the time). I literally had to splash cold water on my face to keep from passing out. And I did pass out :( Scary stuff. I just couldn't keep up with everything and keep conscious. If I had known, I could have shipped my children to relatives. My sister came and took over the kids but it was a difficult few days before.

Good luck whatever you decide,


iVillage Member
Registered: 07-20-2013
Sun, 07-21-2013 - 8:12pm

Take many things into mind. Your age. Example: Let's say your in your 20s. Advantage, quick healing, more likely to have parents to support you while going through recovery, ... My suggestion? Research alternative medical treatment, diet, in-home therapy, ... Look for others who have had the same type of surgery. Ask them for their advice.


Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997
Mon, 07-22-2013 - 12:26pm

Yes, I would get the surgery if I were you. Here's why:

This injury is limiting your range of motion and preventing you from doing things that will keep you healthy into old age.  If you can repair it so that you can get back to yoga and strength training, your entire body will be in better shape for the future.  Your shoulder is not going to heal itself.

I had surgery for tennis elbow in 2005 after three rounds of physical therapy failed to fix it.  The pain was the worst of my life, since I can't stomach narcotic painkillers, and then of course I had to have occupational therapy to regain use of my right arm.  But I figured at the time, I'm in my early 40s and my ability to recover from surgery now is better than it's ever going to be in the future - I'll do it.  I'm really glad I did.  Even though it was literally a few years before my arm was completely "good as new," it is now.  I'm 50 and able to do anything I need to with that arm, including strength training and yoga.

Think long-range, not about the short-term recovery period.  Think overall health, not "sedentary vs active."  You need to be active overall in order to have a good life for decades.  If you can't do yoga, you'll lose your flexibility.  If you can't weight train, you'll lose bone mass, strength, and stamina.  You don't want to lose any of those things a moment before you have to.

Community Leader
Registered: 08-25-2006
Mon, 07-22-2013 - 12:32pm

My first thought was if there was any alternatives, but if you have already done physical therapy, not sure what else you could do.  I mean, there are other alternative practices, but can't immagine what else could fix a tear, KWIM?

I am always on the "surgery is a last resort" wagon, but I have to admit that I would think it would be best to fix while you are young.  I say this partially because you have had to stop doing some of the things you enjoy.  Another person with hobbies like chess or knitting may not care so much about lifting things above their head with their non-dominent arm. 

Both of my parents have health problems and my dad is passionate about car racing.  He has had 4 heart attacks but his real fear is his failing kidneys.  He is not afraid to have a heart attack and die.  He is afraid of being sick and not being able to work on his car and race.  He has already installed a lift in his garage so he does't have to always lay on the ground to work on his car.

Point being, doing what you enjoy is really important.  You may not be an professional athlete, but that doesn't mean you don't deserve to a shot at being more active.

With all of this said PB, I don't think there is anything wrong with adjusting your activities to avoid surgery.  You are correct that there is a small possiblity of complications.  But...I have a feeling you are wanting the surgery and I think most, if not all, of us here would support that decision.  Plus, you are hoping to eventually move, so getting this done here and now may be another reason, too. 

Let us know what you deciced!

Serenity CL Making a Second Marriage Work

Avatar for poorboy2011
iVillage Member
Registered: 10-02-2011
Thu, 07-25-2013 - 12:22pm

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts, and for sharing your experiences!

I decided to put off surgery for now. After getting more information and planning, I realized the post-op recovery time will interfere with my plans of getting a different job. I was hoping to catch a window between now and interview time, but it's looking like that window doesn't actually exist.

Buttons: I'm flattered that you think I'm in my 20s. Ah, those were the days.