Former German 25km champion Alex Studzinski was forced to take 2016 off swimming due to a shoulder injury. We talked to him about his rehabilitation.
When did you first realise you had a problem with your shoulder?
I always had problems with my shoulders dating back to 2007. I got my first surgery on the left shoulder in 2008. Now the problems with the right one started around April 2015. I tried to do all kinds of shoulder injury prevention exercises and rehabilitation. Sadly, nothing really worked.
What do you think caused it?
I think just swimming caused it. I would tell every swimmer to do a lot of exercises for the back and outer rotation. Other than that, there isn’t much to do. Some are lucky to never have any problems, and others are like me. There’s always something.
What is the injury?
It was mostly inflammation of the subscapularis tendon that caused most pain, with some more inflammation around some other tendons. The doctor removed all inflammation with a laser, removed the bursa, made the capsule smaller (which is why the rehabilitation after takes so long) and removed some part of the bone from the acromion to give the other tendons more space.
How long after surgery before you could start swimming again? How slow were you when you got back in the water?
For six weeks I had to wear a sling and wasn’t allowed to move my arm at all. I just had rehab and a type of electric chair that moved the arm passively but I couldn’t do any active movement for the whole time. Now, you can imagine how the arm looked afterwards. Very skinny! After that, getting the range of motion back is the hardest and longest part, plus a painful one as well. At the beginning, I wasn’t even able to scratch my head due to the capsule reduction. It took another month before I could go back into the water. I started with aqua jogging and then slowly moved to breaststroke and finally getting into freestyle. But in the beginning what I was doing couldn’t really be called swimming. It was more like moving around in the water. The first real training session was maybe at the end of August but I still had some restrictions in my movement.
When you couldn’t swim, did you do anything to maintain your aerobic fitness?
I tried to cycle a bit on a stationary bike. Running wasn’t possible.
Tell us how you felt after surgery and about the rehabilitation process.
The biggest concern was, would I be able to swim again? Nobody can tell you that before, so the insecurity is the hardest part.
How did you go about rebuilding your swimming fitness and speed?
I’m still working on that! It’s a long way after such a long break.
What are your swimming plans for 2017?
My plan is to qualify for the World Championships in Budapest for the 25 km. On good days now I swim like on bad days before, so there’s still a long way to go.
What are you doing to minimise further damage to your shoulders? Have you changed the way you swim?
The surgery itself has changed the way I swim due to the capsule reduction and I’ve lost some range of movement in my outer rotation. But as I did before, plenty of rehabilitation exercises and hope for the best!