I am 67-years young and training for an ironman competition. Part of the race involves swimming. If I have a shoulder replacement this year, will I be able to participate again next year?
Ironman competitions traditionally involved swimming, biking, and racing. With proper rehab and training, a shoulder replacement should not keep you out of the race. Older adults who participate in sports before surgery are more likely to return to that sport after surgery. This is when compared with patients who aren't active before shoulder replacement.
Although swimming requires repetitive motion, it does not seem to prevent patients with total shoulder replacements from participating. The rate of implant loosening or revision surgery among swimmers is no different from non-swimmers with a shoulder implant.
In an ironman competition it can be difficult to take full strokes. With so many bodies in the water, there's a lot of water turbulence and bumping of elbows. You may have to alter your stroke to compensate. Athletes try to conserve leg muscles for the cycling and running portions of the race. A modified stroke is also needed to enable you to lift your head above the water to see markers without interrupting your swim or wasting energy.
Expect a three to six month rehab program followed by specific training for your ironman event. A physical therapist can help you with a sports specific training program. Make sure you keep your follow-up appointments with the surgeon after the operation. This will ensure that there are no unseen complications such as implant loosening or subsidence (implant sinking down into the bone).
Eric C. McCarty, MD, et al. Sports Participation After Shoulder Replacement Surgery. In American Journal of Sports Medicine. August 2008. Vol. 36. No. 8. Pp. 1577-1581.
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