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  • Dr. Alec Domjan

How a Labrum Tear Made Me a Better Athlete

Let’s be honest: being injured sucks! No one wants to hurt and feel like they can’t move properly to live an active lifestyle or simply perform daily tasks. It is frustrating to take a step back and focus on recovery when we have so much going on in life. However, an injury may not always be a bad thing if we use it as an opportunity. To illustrate this point, I wanted to tell a story of how tearing my labrum in college gave me the best season of my career.

a young male athlete wearing a yellow swimcap  is midstroke in a swimming pool at a meet

My junior season of college swimming came with high expectations. The previous season, we finished with the best record we had in over a decade including multiple fastest times in school history. I began to break out and became an accomplished mid-distance sprinter and was poised to play a larger role in the coming season. I had trained all summer long in the offseason, including an extensive weight training program that had me in the best shape of my career. However, at the very beginning of the season I suffered a labrum tear that destroyed all momentum headed into the season. 

I was frustrated, angry with myself for the early injury. I was going to be out a good portion of the first half of the season. I could barely move my shoulder past my waist line at the time and the road to recovery seemed endless. I was given the choice of surgery and shutting down for the season or trying conservative treatment which included treatments from an athletic trainer, chiropractor, and physical therapist. I chose the latter due to the low rate of return post shoulder surgery and began my journey. At first, it was a struggle seeing teammates past me and not being able to do anything about it. At some point during the process, I realized that the only aspect I could influence was my present situation. Rather than dwelling on frustration, I channeled that energy into convincing myself not just to return that season but to come back as a faster swimmer.

After that thought, I put my plan into action. I started by altering my training in the weightroom or what most swimmers would refer to as "dryland". I wasn't able to load my shoulder but I could strengthen my legs and work on progressing my rehabilitation with a chiropractor and athletic trainers. I wasn't able to swim with my teammates but I could watch film and study other elite freestylers to study what made them different; everything from the start off the block to the finish line. Competing against other swim teams was out of the question but I could watch the competition and figure out what caused them to lose or win against our teammates. Was it a bad flip turn or slow start? Maybe not enough dolphin kicks underwater or slow turnover? Each race was dedicated to analyzing every aspect, mapping out the strengths and weaknesses, so that I could identify specific areas for improvement once my shoulder healed.

It took three months of work to finally get back into the water. I had about two months to qualify for conference, our most important meet of the season with one meet left in the month of December to compete in. Though the water felt foreign to me, I had a strange sense of confidence and a belief that I was stronger even prior to my injury. My conservative care focused on building my resilience across the tissues of both my shoulders to ensure that I would be stronger and prevent future issues. In addition, my mindset during practice, initially focused on simply being the quickest and getting through the practice, shifted to analyzing each part of my stroke and perfecting it while swimming. 

Finally, it came time to compete once again. It was our second largest meet of the season. Not being able to compete up until this point, I was seeded in the first heat of the 200 yard freestyle competition with swimmers who had lower times than the rest of the field or ones who had never raced the event before. My coach had pulled me from a position at lead in the finals 800 yard freestyle relay that I worked hard to secure the previous season because he did not think I would be up to speed. Nonetheless, I still had confidence in my preparation, regardless of the injury and the time spent out of the water. I finished the race qualifying for finals that night and solidified my coveted spot as the lead on the relay. That season our team went on to finish with the most successful season we had during my four years in college and I even cracked the top ten all-time in two events at conference.

a young male athlete holding up a neon yellow sign that says conference jr. year 1

In short, injuries can be a horrible and traumatic event, but only if we let them be. It can make you feel hopeless, angry, and frustrated that you cannot perform your daily tasks and be at your peak performance. However, you can flip the narrative and turn it into an opportunity to make you more resilient than ever before. This confidence is what we hope to give all our patients; whether your goal is to simply get through the work week without pain or perform at the highest level of your sport. We got you covered! 

Alec Domjan, D.C.

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