Wednesday 30 August 2017

Separated Shoulder

5 weeks ago, I had an accident playing with my daughter and separated my shoulder. I did it properly as well; a grade 3 separation tearing all three ligaments which join my right collar bone to my scapula. It was a classic shoulder separation scenario - diving into a roll but instead landing on the point of my shoulder. Seeing my reflection in the car window was all I needed to know what had happened (it was obvious!), but nonetheless I headed off to get an x-ray and exam to confirm. My clavicle was elevated with a marked deformity across the top of my shoulder.

I’ve always counted myself lucky not to have had any traumatic shoulder injuries. There is a first time for everything. On the first two days it was so painful it took me 30 minutes to get sat up in bed. Taping it had me yelping like a kid! Obviously at this point I was not too happy about the situation.

But even by the third day I was able to make some tiny movements. By the beginning of the second week, the immobilisation of my arm in the sling had devastated my arm and shoulder muscles, which looked (to my eye at least) tiny. It is always shocking how fast immobilised limbs waste away, especially when it is your own limb.

Step deformity at the AC joint (the end of my collar bone)

With my daily exercises, I did everything I could to progress the return of range of motion, strength and muscle mass. At first, I could only really do 1-2 hours per day, but by the third week that was more like three in total. Early on I was just doing a ton of grip and pinch exercises, biceps curls with my arm supported, internal/external rotations with tubing or my other hand for resistance, isometrics at different angles and many more.

It got noticeably better every day, although there were of course still some mornings when I felt rotten, and some evenings when I sloped off to bed exhausted and sore at 7pm. Speaking of bed, the exercises were as always only half the picture. These days I am rather more careful to enforce a minimum amount of sleep, go after a far higher maximum and I’m much more careful with my diet now I have better knowledge on what I’m optimising for. While its not possible to know just how much all of these things make a difference, here is the output so far.

At five weeks I have fairly decent range of motion, but still a bit to go to achieve the last few degrees of pre-injury flexion and especially crossing my arm across my chest. I can manage about 12 pull-ups pain free and can now tolerate short climbing sessions on a 45 degree board doing moves which are fairly easy for me.

I can’t yet tolerate long training sessions, any really hard moves at 45 degrees, forceful ‘gaston’ press moves, very dynamic jumps on steep ground, or other heavy loading of the AC joint with my arm overhead. To me that feels like excellent progress, and I’m still seeing daily improvement. I’m sure I’m not the first climber with this injury so I’ll report back as a few more weeks pass and see what I can manage or cant manage.

Although it’s obviously a massive pain in the ass to have an unexpected traumatic injury I could have done without. But once it has happened, it’s happened. You have to deal with it head on. Its a good opportunity for me on three fronts. First, it allows me to test out the principles I detailed in Make or Break and continue to build on them. Second, it’s allowed me to work on some other projects that needed done. Thankfully the weather has also been rotten for the past month anyway, so there is no FOMO for the mountain crags going on. Finally, as always it allows me to go back to square one and assess my weaknesses to work on in training, and put some proper time into addressing these without the constant drive to just go out climbing all the time.

So let’s see what the next month brings. It would be doing well to be worse than the previous one.


  1. Hi Dave! I recently sustained a grade-V AC separation and had surgery to repair the ruptured ligaments just one week ago. I'm glad to hear that you are recovering well and would be keen to learn more about the routine you have used to get back in shape following this injury.

  2. Hello Dave!

    I've also sustained a similar injury, luckily only stage 2. After 4 weeks I am able to slowly start training again, but have to 'listen' to the shoulder very carefully. Your book Make or break helped alot...