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Conducting: after Rotator cuff surgery

Hello Choralist members -

I am always impressed by the body of knowledge and experience
contained by this group - but I am now also overwelmed by the
kindness and concern shown by so many of you. Although I am
certainly still nervous (especially about facing the junior high boys
one-armed - they can be a bit like sharks smelling blood in the
water!) I can see that others have been on this road before - and
that there is a great deal of interest in the topic. Maybe this
would be a good convention session? In any case, you people are
incredible - thanks so much. I have included portions of messages
that might be of general interest.

The original post was:

"I'm scheduled to have arthroscopic rorator cuff surgery this
Wednesday for a torn cartilage in my right shoulder. Have any of you
been through this? What was your experience with recovery time, etc?
Are there any issues in therapy afterwards specific to choral
conductors or pianists - I'm a little nervous about both! Also, I'm
not looking forward to starting school (grades 5-12 choirs) with my
right arm immobilized. Any advice - other than to hide away?"

Thanks to:
Brad Logan
John Howell
Ann McKinley
Craig Collins
Peter Kiefer
Sharyn Baker
Lauretta Graetz
Fred Ford
Kenny Stultz
Liz & Russell Beiersdorfer
Steve Barnett
Sean Larson
Robert Fullerton
Rubén Rivas
Ross Bernhardt

The responses were:

Stay on your medication regimen - this is very painful, and your body
can't heal if it is also fighting pain. Do your therapy to the best
of your ability.

Ask your doctor about a referal to a physical or occupational
therapist. It would probably be a good idea, since waving arms is
your bread and butter! And please look on this as a golden
opportunity to develop conducting technique and strength in your left
arm and hand! No reason not to.

I have to respond. First, to say OH MY. What a time to be disabled.
To the point: if you can accept the thought of chiropractic and have
access to someone you can trust, you might consider adjustments +
therapy (which is what I getbut I'm MUCH, MUCH older than you).
There's always acupuncture but I don't know where you livethat may
be out of the question. I should think your goal would be to make
your body comfortable. Good luck!

I had rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder (I'm right-handed) a
couple of years ago. There is weakness and soreness following
surgery. You'll have to work to recover range of motion. I couldn't
raise my arm straight over my head for a good while. Physical
Therapy definitely helps. Still, it was about a year before my
shoulder started feeling "normal" again. I don't work out in a gym
the way I should (I'm 50), but obviously, the younger you are and the
more you stretch/exercise it following surgery, the better it will be
That said, I didn't have a lot of problems conducting afterwards. I
couldn't carry too much tension in my arm/shoulders or raise my arms
too high, but in general, one shouldn't do either of those things
anyway. Occasionally, it would bother me, but for the most part, I
didn't have any problems other than some slight discomfort. Best of

I had invasive surgery on both shoulders for rotator cuff injury.
For invasive, the recovery & rehab time was about 9 months on each.
Arthoscopy is shorter but I don't know how much shorter, my physician
never told me, it didn't matter since he had to "go in" to repair
You and everybody should know that we choral directors are very
susceptible since we spend a lot of times with our arms raised (also
trumpet players, violinists, auto mechanics and of course,
instrumental conductors). When you raise your arms it pinches the
tissues and tends to weaken them. So don't life heavy items, try not
to do heavy work that entails raised arms, don't try to stop a
shifting load in a van (like I did) and be careful about throwing BIG

I have had this kind of surgery on both shoulders. In my case I had
torn ligaments, torn biceps tendons and torn rotator cuffs. If the
injury can be fixed through the scope, rather than through an
incision, your recovery will go much more quickly. However, shoulder
surgery is quite painful and it will take some time to heal. I would
think your physician will be sending you as well to physical therapy.
You are likely to have your arm in a sling for a week to three weeks,
unless there is more damage and your doctor tells you otherwise. The
quicker you can begin moving it appropriately at physical therapy,
the quicker you will recover. Depending on the severity of the
injury, I think realistically you are looking at 3-6 months before
you will feel new again. Basically, had I not had the surgery on my
left shoulder, I would have remained crippled as I simply could not
give cues to my singers and orchestras with my left arm. Neither
could I get plates out of the kitchen cupboard, or remove gallons of
milk from the refrigerator. Though my left shoulder is not as good as
new, essentially the surgery saved my ability to use my arm. I play
piano badly, but I never had any problems with playing badly just
because of my shoulder hurting me (wish I could have used that as an
excuse). Best wishes and good luck.

Sorry you have to go through this...isn't this the same injury that
Dale Warland had surgery for about 5 years ago? He seems to have
recovered might contact him....Good luck.

I do sympathize. I have been through a dislocated shoulder, torn
knee cartilege, and a pinched nervethe last made it impossible for
me to touch a keyboard (computer or piano) for at least a month. I
have learned to love physical therapists, who always anticipated my
concerns and took me beyond where I thought I could go. A good
orthopedist and good physical therapy do wonders these days. Thank
God it is anthroscopic surgery, which will cut way down on recovery
time. Trust the medical people, share your concerns, and you will be
fine. I am pulling for you. (65 and still
playing/conducting/teaching fulltime. Life is good.)

I have not had rotator cuff surgery, but I can relate.

Three years ago I contracted a near fatal dose of bacterial
pneumonia. I spent 10 weeks in ICU in a drug-induced coma to allow my
body to heal.

This applies because my right arm had to be immobilized during those
10 weeks. My entire set of rotators in my right shoulder froze up
completely. Along with the therapy that I had to undergo to learn
how to walk, I had to rehab my shoulder. My best advice is this:
1. Make sure that you get a HIGHLY qualified Physical Therapist to
do your work. I had a poor one at first and had practically no real
advancement. Then I got hold of a phenomenal man who saved my career!
2. Physical Therapy is going to HURT LIKE HECK! The old adage "No
pain, no gain" is true in this case. You will believe that these
people are sadists who enjoy making you cry and scream in pain. But
you need to remember this - they are doing this for your benefit.
3. It is possible to return to complete function - it will take time
and hard work on your part. I had to use the old joke, "Will I be
able to play the piano after this?" on my therapist - he knew I was a
musician and found the humor refreshing! I wish you all of the best
in your recovery.

I had a shoulder de-compression surgery during a Christmas break. I
pushed myself through rehab and was able to accompany most of my
students for contest by the end of January. Fatiguing but
functional. I found that I recouperated faster than I thought but I
worked hard at rehab. I was able to conduct by mid-March again with
some fatigue. It took about 6-9 months for a full recovery for me.

I'm sorry to hear this. I think that Dale Warland went through the
same kind of surgery a couple of years ago. You should call him at
home and talk to him about it. He was in his 60s I think and came
through just fine as far as I could tell. Good luck!!

This will take time to heal. Do all the therapy exercises that they
give you - your mobility after surgery will depend on the
faithfulness of your therapy exercises. Also it will be hurt for a
Good Luck and God Bless

I had shoulder surgery almost two years ago (and only about 3 weeks
before Christmas concerts!). Mine was rotator cuff related, but
involved work done on the bones in the area, not the cartilage or
muscle tissue. My advice:
1) Learn to conduct with your left hand. This will be helpful for a
while. By the final concert of the season, I was able to do very
small patterns with my right hand (keeping the upper arm pinned
against my body), but it will be helpful to use your left.
2) Physical therapy can work wonders. Talk with your therapists and
describe the types of motion (conducting, piano playing, etc.) that
you need to recover. He/she should also be able give you some
exercises to help prevent future problems. Do the therapy faithfully.
3) Persevere but be patient. I've had friends who actually increased
their recovery time due to impatience. Follow the advice of your
doctor and therapist.
My surgery was a great success; I don't regret having it done one bit.

Por mi experiencia le recomiendo el YOGA, eliminar carnes y comer
muchas frutas, especialmente la patilla (watermelon). mis mejores
deseos de pronta recuperación.
[translation - "By my experience I recommend it the YOGA, to
eliminate meats and to eat many fruits, especially the patilla
(watermelon). My best wishes for a quick recovery."]

My wife is an occupational therapist in rehab and has some knowledge
of this area. Although most arm/hand injuries are worked on by OTs,
she says that for rotator cuff you will need to see a good physical
therapist. Try to find one that specializes in athletes as these
will have some special knowledge about repetitively moving your arms
for your career. The period of immobilization should be VERY short
if you expect to get your movement back....meaning that if your
recovery is longer, you may not get it back. The rehab will be
painful but if you work hard you should get it all back. Probably
the biggest challenge will be returning to repetitive movement (i.e.
conducting, playing piano). You may find that you want to use the
other side for the bigger movements (bigger arcs, conducting with
non-dominant hand if you're righthanded, etc.).
She hopes this wasn't too depressing! She also emphasizes that this
isn't to be taken as "official" medical advice and that you should
consult a professional in your area. (How's that for a disclaimer?)
Hope this helps!

Thanks again to each of you!

Best wishes,
Mike Ellingsen
Vocal Music and Drama
Blue Earth Area High School
1125 Highway 169 North
Blue Earth MN 56013-2307
(507) 526-3201 x506