Towards the back end of last season I was carrying a niggle in my shoulder. It was manageable at first by doing prehab exercises, having soft tissue treatment and regularly getting it strapped for games. We played Northampton Saints at home in the third to last game of the season and whilst making a tackle I experienced a feeling in my shoulder that I had never felt before whilst falling to the ground. I knew straightaway I had damaged something significantly but ended up playing the last three games of the season before getting a scan to see what the damage was. The scan results showed that I had a labrum tear in my shoulder which was causing the instability which I experienced in the games. It required surgery and would mean missing the England tour to New Zealand. This was very hard to take and I was gutted.
I went in for the operation the week after our last game of the season. I wanted to get it done straightaway to give myself the best chance to be fully fit for the new season. It was my first operation so I was very apprehensive, but I was in and out in a day and the surgeon was very happy with the repair that he did to it. The first week after the operation was very uncomfortable for the obvious reasons - painful to move, very stiff and hard to function in everyday life whilst being in a sling.
After week one of my recovery I returned to the club at Bath to start my rehabilitation process. To start with it was very basic stuff - maintenance of the wounds and very simple movements with my arm. Moving it into uncomfortable positions would risk not letting the joint heal properly. The club organised for me to go to a hyperbaric chamber every day for the first three weeks to try to speed up the healing process. I spent an hour a day in the chamber, which was painful at times but I took the time to read books and learn about other sports people in their professions. The thought behind the chamber is that they reduce the pressure of air in the chamber and then you wear an oxygen mask so it is basically filling your body with higher concentrations of oxygen than usual. This would then mean more oxygen is pumped round the body via the blood, hopefully speeding the damage up caused by surgery.
After the first three weeks of basic arm movements and lots of soft tissue treatment I could start to do more and more complex stuff. Obviously through this process my right arm was out of action but I could still train my left side of my upper body and my legs. I was able to do weights still which made things easier, as it felt like I was still improving in some aspects of my body. At this stage I could do very light TheraBand® exercises with my right side but the main aim was to get normal range and movement back first. This was getting better and better every day and I could then progress to light weighted exercises to build the strength and size of my shoulder up again. A normal rehab session for me in a day would last one hour and would consist of 8-10 different exercises which had high reps but low weight. As the weeks went on, the reps would come down and the weight would go up.
I'm now at a stage where I am back to doing normal doubled-sided weights as well as carrying on with my rehab programme. This is putting a lot of load through my shoulder but is exactly what I need to make it as strong as I can. Since week five of my rehab, I have been able to practise my kicking, which was also good because it was a different stimulus for me to focus on, preventing becoming frustrated with doing the same thing every single day. I am now joining in on all field rugby sessions except the contact side of things. In the next few weeks I will slowly begin to start doing contact exercises again such as falling to the ground, fending off opponents and tackle work.
At this stage I am really happy with how my shoulder feels and the progress I have made. I am doing everything I can to make it as strong as possible and I am fully aware how important it is not to rush things. I have spoken to a few players who have had shoulder operations and from their experience they have told me that they can be temperamental if they are not rehabbed and looked after properly. Throughout the whole process the support I have had from the club but especially from my family has been unbelievable. Being injured is never a nice period but through thick and thin they are there for me. This makes things a whole lot easier and makes me realise how lucky I am that I have the support base I do.