Sticking With the Program

During the first months of my reverse shoulder surgery recovery, I saw rapid changes and improvements. First the healing, then the strength made great strides in recovery.

Now that I’m nearing 6 months post-surgery, the rapid gains have slowed to where I can no longer easily observe them.

Time begins to stretch during recovery

This has been my typical recovery experience after a surgery or significant injury. In the first time period, the healing and improvement is quick. Then it slows down. But the recovery is still going, and the ongoing therapy is still needed — it's just time is stretching out as the deeper healing continues.

Without knowing better, it would be easy to give up, to stop my therapy program and acquiesce to my current condition. But, thankfully, I do know better and will keep sticking with the program.

Recovery continues, even if it's hard to see

I work on my shoulder exercises every day, and I continue going to physical therapy twice a week. But I haven’t noticed any significant change in weeks. Why do I keep going when I am not witnessing improvements?

There’s a few reasons. First, my vantage point is very limited. When I bring this up to my husband, he is surprised because he says he sees improvements. For me, they are so small and slow that I can’t see them. But if you speed up the time-lapse camera and watch from an external perspective, the changes are huge.

Additionally, when my physical therapist remeasured my motion for a progress report, she found gains. So, while I may not see the improvements, they are still continuing to happen.

I also know that sometimes I may plateau in my improvement for weeks at a time and then experience a surge of growth, increased motion, lessened discomfort, and so forth. Sometimes my body is just building up to it.

So, in my recovery, seeing is not always believing. I need to believe without seeing, without the proof. I need to keep working the program so that the program works on me.

Maintaining is also gaining

Another aspect to my continuing therapy is to keep the gains that I have made. Even if I didn’t believe I will experience more improvements in my recovery (which I do believe), I would want to continue therapy to keep the gains I have already achieved. I don’t want to lose any ounce of strength or any inch of motion. For me not to lose, I have to continue working.

I consider it an investment in myself. I think of it as having faith in my persistence. I am capable of doing the work, so I keep at it in the hopes and expectations that it will eventually pay off many more dividends than I can imagine right now.

In many ways, our medication treatment is similar. We don’t take our biologic or whatever medication our rheumatologists prescribe and expect to instantly feel the effects. But we keep at it because eventually time will prove that the medication is doing its work and hopefully alleviating our symptoms.

Physical therapy gains can be lasting

For me, the physical therapy is better than the medication (which is also very important to my health and for keeping further joint damage at bay), because eventually I will see improvements. My medication is largely a zeroing out — it equalizes the disease or slows it down to a crawl. It doesn’t turn back the damage and repair my bones.

But my exercise and physical therapy can make me stronger, can gradually improve the motion in my new joint, and facilitate better healing and future function. It is actually an improvement versus the stasis I hope to see from my medication doing its job.

This is why I stick with the program — because, eventually, I will come out better for it and be so grateful that I invested the time and energy into my well-being.

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