Nine Steps to Shooting Your Bow Again After Shoulder Surgery

I have had two shoulder surgeries over the past three years. The first recovery was smoother than the second, but I have shot my 80 pound bow after both surgeries. It can be difficult to set goals and stay motivated after an operation. I wrote out nine points for anyone who is heading into a labrum or rotator cuff surgery. 

Rethink your daily schedule and habits

  • I was in college during my first shoulder surgery and this enabled me to do a lot more physical therapy than the second time around. I two and three hour breaks during the day where it was easy to get to the weight room. Even without a college schedule, you can find fifteen minute breaks to do a few stretches before going back to work or while picking your kids up from school. Try to make a habit of doing therapy at least three times a day, this will pay off in the long run. 

Week 4: Bench press a Broomstick

  • Bring a broomstick or PVC pipe to work and do physical therapy on the floor by your desk. Many of the exercises take less than five minutes. Stretching your shoulder four times a day for ten minutes will be a lot more effective, and less painful, than trying to stretch it hard for forty minutes at the end of the day. Also, a broomstick is a lot easier to bring to work than most of the machines at the therapist. 

Buy a workout band

  • The physical therapist will probably give you a band for doing exercises, but I found the Gold’s gym bands from Walmart work much better. They are more durable and versatile. 

Start with a youth bow (2 months)

  • After 6 weeks in a sling and a few more weeks of therapy I was elated to shoot my old 20 pound youth bow again. I believe one key to recovery is creating small goals that can be celebrated so that you stay motivated while going through rehab. Make sure you have a light-poundage bow ready for when you are finally able to lift your arms to shoulder height.

Dial your current bow down to its minimum weight (3 months)

  • I dialed my bow to the lowest poundage and sighted it in before surgery. I did this so that I could shoot without having to worry if I would get it sighted in by the time turkey season came around. Also, if your bow is already tuned, it is a lot more fun than trying to sight it in with a weak, unstable shoulder.

Go for a hunt (4 months)

  • Whether you are having surgery in the winter or summer, there will be an upcoming season you can plan to hunt. I had my two surgeries in January and February, which enabled me to set the goal to hunt turkeys in the spring with my bow set at forty pounds. If you are getting surgery in May the goal should be to hunt whitetail in the fall. Pronghorn and pigs are options for cheap hunts that can be used as motivators for surgeries in March or April. 

Keep doing research after physical therapy ends

  • I had two different therapist for my two surgeries. I was surprised at how different shoulder programs could be. Research more exercises online after your therapist clears you to workout. Cam Hanes bow hunting workouts helped me to recover after therapy became redundant. He has a variety for workouts for whatever your goals when shooting your bow. 

My timeline

  • Every surgery is different, and every body is different. But I still find it helpful to hear about another person’s progress that went through a similar surgery. Most doctors will say that it will take a year to reach full strength and 6 weeks to get out of the sling.

While it is smart to play it safe, and I may have pushed it at times, and the typical shoulder recovery schedule may not be accurate. If you are under 40, I think you can be out of the sling in 4 weeks. And if you have exercised and are relatively healthy, you should be able to reach full strength in 6 months. Both of my surgeries I have been able to bench over 225 within 5 months of surgery. 

Be patient and don’t give up

  • I have struggled with pain from scar tissue after the second surgery. I have thought that something was really wrong with my shoulder, only to be surprised how quickly it bounces back the next workout. It is easy to get down in the dumps and give up. The other day I was talking with a friend who gave up after knee surgery for a while only to have his knee almost fully recover when he got back into hiking two years later. He is now enjoying running. Even if things are going slowly and painfully, don’t give up, the body can do some amazing things.

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