Shoulder Update (GOOD NEWS), plus my new PT routine for shoulder stability

A year into my, um, journey, with this mysterious shoulder injury/ies, I finally got some encouraging news from my sports doctor: my instability and my shoulder blade glide is drastically improving! More on what I did to achieve that in the past three months of new treatment in a minute.

This is an especially big relief because despite the pain in the front of my shoulder disappearing, I’ve developed a new, rather alarming symptom: extremely loud clicking and popping in not one, but both of my shoulders. The fuck???

My (new!) PT didn’t even blink an eye when she heard it and said, yeah, you’ve got a labral tear. “Is that bad?”
“Well, don’t get the surgery unless you have to, you’ll never get your strength back.”
“Can it heal without surgery?”
“Well… it doesn’t really heal.”

I ran home and Googled, and sure enough, all my symptoms fit the bill, from the popping and clicking to the feelings of instability, and the initial pain I’d had in the front of my shoulder (that went away after prolotherapy and zero poling). Though it’s worth mentioning–when I intensely poled for two days as part of my Elevated training, I had zero pain as well! The instability was still scary though, so I modified all my spins and made sure to be careful and use perfect form and two hands at all time.

So that leads me to today (or, several days ago, by the time this publishes. I’m hoping the weather in the future is warmer!!!). My doctor was concerned by the popping and clicking, but noticed that my shoulder blade IS gliding a lot better, and the joint is tracking my arm properly when I raise it–meaning all the exercises I’ve been doing in PT have been helping. I’m demoing them in a video below. I highly recommend ALL polers at least give them a try, if not add them to their routines permanently.

But that doesn’t rule out a labral tear, and unfortunately, an MRI is the only way to know for sure if you have one. So… we’re going to try to get me one! I have to get injections of dye in my shoulder to have this done, so I’m hoping some groovy imaging comes out of it. But also definitive answers. I’ve been in physical therapy for more than a year now, and I kind of just want to know for sure if it will ever be truly safe for me to pole again, or if stopping now is essential to keeping my shoulders healthy for the rest of my life. I mean I love pole, but I would also like to be able to lift my arms over my head in my 50s and 60s, you know?

Focusing on the positive though, I’ve been prescribed to continue the routine I’ve been doing–at home! Whoop whoop! No more early morning visits and extra clothing changes schlepped to work. And no more expensive copays! At least for the time being.

To help all my fellow shoulder injury peeps, here’s exactly my routine as of April 2018. But probably check with your doctor first if you’re injured–no sense in making things any worse before they get better.

Equipment you’ll need:

-A mini band (a small, circular resistance band). You can tie a Theraband in a loop if you don’t have one! Lord knows I’ve done it…
-A foam roller
-Hand weights (3-5 pounds)
-A hand towel
-A Swiss ball (or the edge of a bed, or a chair… or a kitchen counter…)


Shoulder Shrugs (Weighted)

Pic stolen from a Cornell video, and judging from the other exercises in it, it might be worth a watch!

Flat on your back and with hand weights, extend your arms straight up at shoulder distance apart. I use 5-pound weights, but you might want to start with 2 or 3 to get a feel. Spread your shoulder blades across your back and “shrug” or “punch” the weights straight up a controlled motion, then squeeze your shoulder blades together to retract the weights again, straight down. Repeat for 30. (I’m supposed to do 3 sets of 10, but shhh, don’t tell my PT–I’m used to doing these in a plank position so they’re not very hard for me and I typically blast through the 30 all at once).

*Terrible 7s

Grab a mini band (I use “Perform Better” in yellow) and put it around your wrists. The following are “in and out” movements you’ll perform quickly in sets of ten, preferably moving from one exercise to the next without stopping. Try to keep the movements smooth and do the exercise in front of the mirror to ensure that both arms are doing the work and at the same time (my left has a habit of being lazy).

Here are the positions, in order (kind of… I sometimes mix around the first three). Really sorry I couldn’t find a picture of these–I’ll have to shoot a quick video to help visualize when I have a minute!

  • Palms up
  • Palms facing each other
  • Palms down
  • Palms facing each other, arms reaching out and straightening, then bending at the elbow)
  • Palms facing each other, arms straight, arms travel straight up over the head without flaring the rib cage, maintaining the distance between palms throughout
  • Arms straight, circle counterclockwise up overhead while opening and closing arms a few inches
  • Arms straight, circle clockwise up overhead while opening and closing arms a few inches

Take a breather–and repeat!

*If you do no other exercise from this collection than this one… you’re on the right track. I think it singularly helped me more than anything else I’ve done. (And lawd knows I’ve done a great many different things). I’ll try to get pics/a gif/a video together soon to make the movement clearer!!

Is it just me or does this woman look like she’s weeping? I mean it’s tough but it’s not that bad… (pic stolen from Peanut Butter Fingers, which is a name I can get behind).


Shoulder Tap Planks

In a plank position with feet spread about hip distance apart, lift one hand off the floor and tap your opposite shoulder while keeping the rest of the body as stable as possible (avoiding rocking or twisting). Repeat to the other side. That’s one rep–shoot for 20.

Banded Hand Slides

I’ve demoed this before in my Gentle PT video, but now I can finally do this with straight arms. Again, I’m using the green band and hating life. You’re welcome to start with yellow! (My gift to you). Start with the band around your wrists and hands outstretched and planted at the wall about shoulder’s distance apart and shoulder height. Start by sliding the right hand (or left, your choice, live your live) out  a few inches at about 45 degrees and back in, out straight to the side a few inches and back in, and down about 45 degrees and back in. That’s one rep! Repeat for a set of 10, switch sides, and then repeat the cycle until you’ve completed 30 on each side.

I stole this picture from Cirque Physio


Banded Foam Roller Slides

This is also similar to an exercise in my “Gentle PT” routine, but the band and roller combined level it up. Put a band around your wrists (I use green, but you might want to start with yellow). Grab a foam roller and a wall. Starting with your hands and the foam roller about chest height, with palms facing eachother and about shoulder distance apart, carefully roll the foam roller up the wall and down to your elbows. Roll back down and repeat for 10. Perform three sets of 10, with breaks in between.

Sideline ERs, which are way less serious than they sound

You can do this with a band that has a teeny, tiny front pocket if you’re a woman), raise a weight up and out at 45 degrees, stopping when your hand is in line with your shoulder. Lower with control across your body and repeat. Be careful not to swing or twist from side to side. Repeat for three sets of 10 and switch sides (I often do this between sets if I’m having a rough day). I use the red band and try to step far enough out that I feel it a bit on the first rep, but not too crazy (I guess about 6 feet? I’m sorry this is so vague?), and when I finally get my life together and try this at home, I’ll make a recommendation for a comparable hand weight size. I also might end up tying a theraband to my pole because I’m ratchet like that.

External Rotations (Weighted, on Side)

I stole this picture from a Release Physical Therapy video

This is another one you’ll want to go light on weights with, because DAMN, it will catch up to you quickly. Start on your side with a rolled-up washcloth between your waist and your top arm (bent at the elbow), and your bottom arm folded under your head to keep from rocking. Grab a weight with your top arm, and, keeping your hips stacked on top of each other and squeezing your core for stability, externally raise your bent arm to either 45 degrees or a little further (depending on your range of motion). Lower with control, being careful not to rock your body forward or backward, and keeping your hips stacked. Repeat for 3 sets of 10, and expect the burn to kick in around #6.

Ys, Is, and Ts

Ignore the last one… (or do it, it probably won’t hurt you). Stolen from Redefining Strength. (ie. that’s not me, and very unfortunately, that’s not my butt).

This one can be tricky without a massage table, so I recommend leaning over the corner of a bed or a stool, or hopping belly down on a Swiss ball (I actually just bought one of this for this purpose–that’s how important this exercise is. TRUST).

Okay so some false adverting here with the name: it’s actually Y, T, and I, but that doesn’t have the same ring. Leaning over a… whatever… scoot far enough up that you can drop your arms straight down and lift them up to your sides (a few inches from your hips) freely). I realize this is tall order, so do your best! Starting with arms straight down and thumbs up, squeeze your lats and lower straps to raise your arms in a “thumbs up” position up and slightly further out than your shoulders (in a Y!). Repeat for a set of 10 or 15. Next, raise your arms, palms facing down, into a “T”–straight out to the side, at shoulder height. Repeat for 10 or 15 reps. Finally, I’s: in a “thumbs down” position, raise your arms backwards towards your sides, a few inches away from your hips. Repeat 10 or 15 times.

I hope I have time to make a video of these soon, but the meantime enjoy these stolen photos (click the picture to follow the link to the website I got each one from!)

Help everybody else is enjoying and maintaining healthy bodies! There’s nothing like having all of your body parts working properly.

And if you’re looking to start somewhere a little… softer… here’s that Gentle PT video for you. These are the exercises I was doing when I first got hurt, so they’re slightly less diesel. Hope this helps! And if you’ve been doing some upper body conditioning or pre-hab, please share below.


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