After 10 years of shoulder pain, I had shoulder tenodesis surgery in October 2022. For a 32 year old (at the time) it was quite a rare surgery to be having, so I thought I'd share my experience here for others to read, and hopefully you'll find it helpful... or at least interesting! I also recorded a couple of YouTube videos so I'll include them below too.
If you're having biceps tenodesis surgery or have recently had it, let me know in the comments at the bottom of this page! I'm always interested to hear other people's opinions on the surgery.
So, in this post I'll explain my background and experience with shoulder pain, what biceps tenodesis actually is, how the surgery went and my recovery so far.
My history of shoulder pain
I suffered from shoulder pain for around 10 years. I can't 100% put my finger on the cause, but when I was 17/18 years old, I started going to the gym regularly and went from a skinny teenager to gaining probably around 2-3 stone in muscle relatively quickly. I also HATED shoulder day and much preferred chest day (don't we all?).
Knowing what I do now as a sports therapist, I realise that was aways a recipe for disaster, but at the time I obviously just wanted to put on some muscle.
I worked as a beach lifeguard in Skegness for years and part of the training was to regularly go in the sea on a surfboard-style rescue board. We would paddle around catching waves. I remember one day there being 10ft surf, which is rare in Lincolnshire. So I went out catching waves and messing about.
When you get knocked off these boards, there are handles on the sides so you can grab hold of it so you don't lose it and have to swim after it. Unfortunately, they are extremely buoyant...
I remember getting smashed by a massive wave and grabbing onto the handle so I didn't have to swim after my board as it got washed away. However as the wave was huge, it dragged by board towards shore, with me hanging off the side getting flipped around. I think this might have been the cause of the injury, although I just kind of got on with it. I remember it being painful and from what I remember, gave me some irritating shoulder pain for a while, but never enough to really force me to do anything about it.
I do suffer from hyper mobility so tend to get injured quite a lot playing sport and doing exercise so I just put it down to another one of those niggles.
Fast forward a few years, it was getting quite annoying and causing me pain more often. As I learnt more about exercise in my sport science studies, I started training more evenly and this was where I noticed the pain more often. It would stop me training shoulders and would hurt even when throwing the ball for the dog to chase.
I eventually had enough and went to the doctor to try and get a scan. Over a period of probably 3-4 years I must have seen 4 physiotherapists, 3 consultants, and numerous doctors. I had 3 cortisone injections in my shoulder and several MRI and ultrasound scans to try and diagnose the issue. But because I could live with it, the NHS seemed to not really care too much. But they didn't understand how it affected my life. Sport and exercise is a massive part of my life and my job.
Luckily, I finally got through to a consultant who understood. He performed a more thorough assessment and requested an MRI arthrogram, where an ink is injected into your arm so it can show things more clearly on the MRI scan.
I fainted... but that's a story for another day.
His conclusion, was that during that surfing incident, I may have dislocated my shoulder and caused some damage to the bicep tendon, which rarely fixes itself even with physiotherapy. Which explains why nothing I did was helping for years.
He then explained his recommended surgical approach was Bicep Tenodesis surgery.
What is biceps tenodesis surgery?
To explain simply, biceps tenodesis surgery is where the surgeon detaches your long head bicep tendon from the bone, moves it further down your arm and reattaches it into your humerus to avoid it causing problems within your joint.
As part of the surgery, they often also remove or drain the bursae and shave some bone which can also contribute to irritation in an already compact shoulder joint.
My shoulder surgery
So after years of being passed from consultant, to GP, to physiotherapist... I eventually got referred to a private hospital in Grimsby to have surgery. Here's a video I recorded just before I had it done.
Recovering from biceps tenodesis surgery
My recovery from shoulder surgery
Recovering from biceps tenodesis is a lengthy process. You're essentially retraining your bicep and shoulder from scratch where (much like any surgery recovery) you have to balance the progression with the symptoms and what aggravates your pain.
I'll be honest... the first two months of recovery were horrific. I'd never been in so much pain and didn't realise how much having one arm limits your daily activity. I struggled to get changed, wash and even make a cup of coffee.
The pain was severe (to put it politely)... I also conscious that the bicep tendon had been drilled into my arm... so if I was to trip to fall on it, I'd risk snapping my arm in two, which is always a great risk to have!
I'd planned on recording more regular updated for YouTube but after the first couple took so long to edit with one arm.. my patience couldn't handle it!
Overall, my recovery was actually surprisingly smooth, despite the pain. I had no major set backs and once I was able to start strengthening my shoulder up, everything improved fairly quickly.
I was able to do pull ups within about 6 months and started to build my strength back up progressively. It was becoming more fatigued than my "good" arm quickly but that was to be expected considering the surgery I'd had.
At the time of writing this, I'm about 12 months post-op and my shoulder is much better than it was before the operation. I would 100% recommend anyone who was in my situation to have it but of course this would need discussing with a surgeon who can explain the risks and severity of the surgery compared to other options.
I was a little apprehensive, as some of my patients have reported negative experiences with shoulder surgery but I can't knock my experience, which was heavily benefitted by the fantastic surgery and post-op care from St Hugh's Hospital in Grimsby.
I now have virtually no shoulder pain. I can play with the dog and not have to worry about being sore for a week. Swimming doesn't aggravate anything, I can train more freely than before and after a couple of nervy attempts... I can now surf without any real concerns.
Although I am still a bit nervous if there's any 10ft surf forecast....!