Ask any athlete if they have ever had an injury that wouldn't go away and you will get a definitive 'yes'. All athletes, from whatever sport, knows how it feels to train and compete and push through the pain with a long-term injury. But they also know when its time to get something done about it. I have joined those ranks.
For the last year and a half, I have had a shoulder injury that has affected both my training, racing and now even my everyday movements. I have tried to ignore it for this long, competing at both the European and the World Champs last year, and although it was possibly my best year yet, I feel it was hindered by my ever-slowing swim times. I told myself that after the World Champs, I would go back to my doctor to find out the cause of the pain and discomfort.
Since September I've had an MRI scan, CT scan and a diagnostic arthroscopy and I have finally found out what is wrong with my shoulder.
So in layman's terms the diagnostic how I see it: your shoulder ball and socket has to be able to move in many directions and the socket isn't as deep as your hip socket. In order for the end of the humerous bone (ball) in the arm to stay in the shoulder socket, there is a fibrous cartilage called the labrum that wraps around the end of the humerous to deepen the socket and hold it in. It also acts as a shock absorber.
Due to the repetitive circular motion in swimming and a sudden dislocation and relocation of my shoulder during a swimming session one day, I managed to damage the labrum (I remember this well as it sounded like a crack, then immense pain and immediate loss of power in that arm). After a year and a half of continued swimming and therefore continued dislocations, I have managed to flatten and dislodge the labrum so it no longer holds the ball in the socket. So my arm slips out of the socket at the back when using that arm, hence the pain when I am swimming and other menial tasks. (see picture below)
Because the labrum is severely damaged, the end of the humerous isn't being held in the socket properly at all anymore, so anything that requires even a small amount of force on my shoulder (ie. picking a bag up, opening a door, changing gear when driving) causes it to move out of place. They call it posterior instability with dislocation. You can see the difference in the two shoulders just with me standing upright with the weight of my arm hanging down by my side. My left side has a deeper angle to it and drops lower than the other side.
So that is the diagnostic, now here is the solution: an operation that requires at least 3 months of recovery!
They are going to drill 3 rods into the bone, two at the back (posterior) to fix the damaged labrum and one at the front (anterior) to even out the pulling on the bone. They will then stitch the labrum onto the rods in order for the humerous to stay in the socket.
I will be in a sling and block for approx. 6 weeks, with restricted movement (see photo below), to allow the bone to 'grow' around the rods, then for the next 2 months, I will be having physio to get the movement and strength back into my shoulder.
Apparently, there is the possibility that I will lose the full rotation of my shoulder, which means my swim stroke will have to change drastically to accommodate this and the power in that arm will not be as good as the right arm, but the pros outweigh the cons and my arm will be useless if I attempt to swim with it anymore as I have no strength at all, so I am happy to take any consequences for it!
It is going to be a few long, slow and painful months recovery, and then (hopefully, if I am recovered in time) getting ready for the Europeans in July and the Worlds in September. I may have to miss out on retaining my title of the last 2 years of British Triathlon Champion and National Aquathlon champion, but I am determined not to miss my big events, the ones I have worked hard to qualify for. Many people have been through worse and bigger obstacles than this and still managed to carry on competing, so this is only a little hurdle to overcome. Look at Alistair Brownlee - he was back competing again a few weeks after breaking his foot last year. If he can do it then so can I.
I am prepared to work my butt off to get back my swim fitness and in the meantime I shall be working on my cycling and running to counterbalance the loss in time on the swim section, so all is not lost.
I have only swam a handful of times since my last race in September so it will be hard going but I have my determination and will – and the help of a fantastic coach who just so happens to be a great swimming teacher (Kristian Whitmarsh you have your work cut out!)
Nothing has changed and like I said last year, BRING ON 2018 – I love a challenge!