Yoga after shoulder surgery: downward dog is back into daily routine

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Patti practicing yoga

Forty years ago, Patti Nevin embraced the practice of yoga into her daily routine. First as a student, she learned poses and techniques that helped ease discomfort in her hips, shoulders and other areas of her body, and loved the gentle workout.

Nevin, a South Rockwood resident, discovered a relaxation and calm she welcomed into her life, and eventually became an instructor.

Experiencing a dislocated clavicle in her 20s, Nevin relied on her yoga practice to stretch and ease the pain. Now 69 years old, intense shoulder pain when executing basic yoga poses, like downward dog, led her to see Marc Milia, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulder repair.

“I had an MRI and it showed both shoulders had partially detached tendons in several spots,” she said. “Prior to that initial surgery, I could pick up my right arm, but I had to support it with my left hand to hold it up.”

In 2016, Dr. Milia said it was time for a shoulder replacement on her right side.

“I had a student in my class who had a knee replacement surgery,” said Patti. She was getting up and down on her mat with ease and I asked her about it. She asked her surgeon for a yoga knee. So I asked Dr. Milia for a yoga shoulder – I wanted to be able to do downward dog with no pain,” said Patti.

“The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, but there can be an increased risk of injury for older athletes,” said Dr. Milia. “The rotator cuff creates the most shoulder problems as we age.” We assured her we would do everything to solve the problem.

After having surgery at Beaumont Hospital in Taylor, she began physical therapy and made quick progress. She was back to teaching her yoga classes within three months.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, symptoms of a shoulder tear or injury can include pain with overheard activities; catching, locking, popping or grinding; occasional night pain or pain with daily activities; a sense of instability in the shoulder, decreased range of motion and loss of strength.

In July, she had surgery on her left shoulder. She is still in physical therapy, but returned to teaching her class in mid-September.

“One of the reasons I got into yoga was for stress management and to learn good posture,” said Patti. So many other benefits came beyond that.”

“I have an attitude of gratitude. I am nothing but grateful and that’s why I like sharing with others what’s helped me, so hopefully somebody else can get a little gleam of inspiration.”

In addition to returning to her regular class schedule, her greatest accomplishment so far is being able to execute most of the yoga poses she’s used to.

Patti yoga pose

“I almost do a full downward dog. I still favor one side, but with Dr. Milia’s help and regular physical therapy, I not giving up until I am full back to the pose by the end of the year.”

“It’s important to understand the basic anatomy of the shoulder to prevent injury and to understand what can go wrong,” said Dr. Milia. “Keeping her rotator cuff strong and the joint muscle can enable a complete return of function and that’s what I look forward to for Patti.