Experiences with left shoulder surgery?

January 3, 2022, 12:47 AM · I’m a semi-professional violin player in my early 20s with a chronic (non-violin related) left shoulder injury. Over the past 7 years, I’ve dislocated it 11+ times, and it’s gotten to the point where rolling over wrong or tensing the wrong muscles will pop it out. I’ve done a few rounds of physical therapy and had 3 orthopedic consults over the years, the takeaway being that I probably wasn’t doing any long term damage by not getting it repaired then, and to come back if it really started bothering me. Well, it’s bothering me, and I’m worried about the possibility for left arm/hand nerve damage over time if I continue to dislocate it frequently. However, I’ve also heard horror stories of musicians never fully recovering their range of motion after a shoulder surgery, or losing the ability to play entirely. Does anyone have RECENT (last 10 years or less) first or secondhand experience with a similar surgery they’d be willing to share? Or what you chose instead of surgery, if you opted not to go that route? I’m really in a quandary, and would appreciate anything you care to share. Thank you! (I read through past threads, but everything I could find was 15+ years old and I know surgery has advanced since then).

Replies (7)

January 3, 2022, 4:34 AM · Probably best to have a dialogue and express your concerns with a well respected board certified surgeon rather than ask the internet.
January 3, 2022, 6:08 AM · There are great surgeons and then there are the 'not so great' surgeons. Having had experience with both I would advise you to ask a few GP's for their recommendations and then get advice from the best surgeon you can possibly afford.
January 3, 2022, 9:11 AM · Just to be clear, I’ve had dialogues with several surgeons, PTs, and my GP. I trust their medical opinions, and I’m not trying to replace expert medical advice with advice from the internet. But none of them work specifically with musicians, so they haven’t really been able to address my specific concerns with anything concrete. I’m just looking to hear from anyone who’s had a similar surgery if it worked out well for them, that’s all. Thank you!
Edited: January 4, 2022, 6:58 AM · I had arthroscopic surgery on my left shoulder a couple of years ago because of joint issues, although nothing like yours. I subsequently had a Platelet-Rich Plasma injection when the surgery and PT did not clear up the problem to my satisfaction. Now, the shoulder is pretty much fine after the injection and some more PT.

None of the people I dealt with are musician specialists, but collectively they helped. Your problem does not sound as if it requires someone who specializes in musicians. If getting someone like that is important, find out which doctors in your city the symphony musicians use. The symphony administrators or musicians should be able to tell you. In addition to your orthopedist, you might want to visit a physiatrist (basically a sports medicine doctor who has a whole range of options other than surgery or PT) and get an opinion.

You might also want to consider whether you need a shoulder replacement because your problem sounds much different from the ones I am used to hearing about which are rotator cuff tears. Anyhow, I cannot advise you what would be best, but you may want to talk to a range of doctors and specialist to see who can come up with the best plan for your shoulder. Good luck!

January 3, 2022, 11:20 PM · If you decide to go the surgical route, get the absolute best surgeon that you can, and emphasize to him the importance of preserving your full range of motion and flexibility. You'll want good PT as a follow-up.
January 4, 2022, 12:18 PM · I had a torn labrum in both shoulders caused by a weight lifting accident. After years of difficulty, I finally sought medical help due to painful shoulder subluxations (partial dislocations) that were happening several times per day.

In 2013 I underwent surgery to repair my left shoulder. Six months later I had my right shoulder repaired. About a year after the first surgery, I was able to resume playing the violin. (I probably could have started playing sooner if I didn't need surgery on my right shoulder.)

I had to work extra hard with physical therapy to restore flexibility in my left shoulder so that I could even hold my violin. I ended up having to change my technique to accommodate reduced range of motion in my left shoulder. To this day (8 years later), I still can't quite extend my elbow under my violin the way I used to. I'm able to play normally in lower positions, but it's slightly uncomfortable for me to play in fifth position or higher. Since I mostly play traditional music, this hasn't been a problem for me.

Both my surgeon and physical therapist had a significant amount of experience working with athletes. As an amateur musician, I felt like they took really good care of me. In the end, I'm glad I got my shoulders fixed because a lower range of motion is much better than shoulder subluxations.

Depending on the prognosis, your path to recovery may be different than mine. It might be worth demonstrating how you hold the violin to the surgeon to get an idea of what range of motion is possible after you're done with physical therapy.

Best of luck in your journey. I hope you're able to get your shoulder fixed and continue playing the violin.

Edited: January 4, 2022, 1:33 PM · I had a total shoulder replacement LH a few years back due to the fact my shoulder was broken in 6 different parts. There was no option. After a year of pt and very intense I still do not have enough exterior shoulder to play the violin. Normal living function is just fine. Ask your surgeon if there is a way out of this and if so let me know. The surgery was extremely painful. I can play with considerable adjustments, but first postion on the G and D string are not really possible. Bruce

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