Triathlon and a Torn Rotator Cuff

As injuries go I’ve had a few, but no more than any other active person.

I’ve strained muscles, sprained ankles and suffered from those annoying shin splints that always seem to arrive at the most unsuitable time. But last November I managed to pick up a new injury which I’d never experienced before. I was heading into the off season after a great year of racing. My body was tired from so many months of sustained effort and I decided to push the boat out one last time.  The result?

  • A Grade 1.5 tear in my right Rotator Cuff,

Rotator Cuff Tear

The Rotator Cuff is an very important muscle in your shoulder which assists in stabilising,  lifting and also twisting your arm. So when it comes to Triathlon it’s a seriously busy muscle! I knew the second that I felt pain in my shoulder that I’d hurt something, but I had no idea just how difficult this particular injury would be.

Initially I experienced some pain in my shoulder but was able to carry on training. It was over the next few days that the pain grew more acute and just wouldn’t go away. I found that when I lay in bed my shoulder would ache, even if I wasn’t lying on it. I also found that movements such as putting on a shirt or a jacket caused me great discomfort, as my arm just wouldn’t want to complete the motion. These are all common symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff.

After a week I figured it was time to seek professional help and I made my way to the Physiotherapist for the bad news. He examined my shoulder, had me perform several tests and then confirmed that I had between a Grade 1 and Grade 2 Rotator cuff tear. According to the Physio a common cause of Rotator Cuff Tears is overuse and considering my increase in swim mileage and training that season I ticked all the boxes!

Rotator Cuff Recovery

The physio explained to me that i’d need to Ice my shoulder regularly to reduce the inflammation and also gave me several exercises to perform to assist in the recovery of the muscle. The weeks passed and I avoided swimming and biking due to the pain they caused. As Christmas approached I felt cabin fever setting in and convinced myself that it would be OK for me to return to the Gym.I mean I was only going to perform exercises that didn’t directly use my Rotator Cuff – right?. Everybody has a slightly different experience when it comes to injuries and for me this return to the gym was a bad move.

I began doing weights to work on my tricep, core and chest muscles in the hope of building good strength for the following season. Hindsight is 20:20 and I know now that I was pushing it too hard. After only a couple of sessions I discovered the creeping return of the dull ache in my shoulder. How was I ever going to recover?

For the next two months I took a complete break from Swimming, Cycling and almost all upper body weights. I changed Physio and received deep tissue massages on my shoulder to increase the blood flow in the injured area and also to  help break down the scar tissue that was forming there. As the New Year arrived I finally began to feel better and actions such as putting on a coat were no longer as painful as they had been! (The small achievements). In January I tentatively returned to the pool and managed to crank out 750 meters in short sets of 25m & 50m, taking care to keep my effort low – Slowly easing my shoulder back into it.


Fast forward to today. It’s May and I’m delighted to say that my Rotator cuff is almost back to normal. I’m back in the pool and also enjoying being out on the bike again!

Everybody has a different experience when it comes to injuries but these are the things that I learned from my Rotator Cuff Tear:

  • Ice – If you’ve injured your shoulder, make sure and apply ice to help to reduce inflammation. It’s a good idea to buy a gel ice-pack which you can refreeze again and again
  • Visit your physio – Don’t put it off. Your Physio is a professional and if you’ve injured your Rotator Cuff, the sooner you get medical advice the better!
  • Do all of the exercises – If you want to recover fully don’t ignore those exercises that your Physio perscribes. Make a point of doing each one and then icing your shoulder afterwards.
  • Patience – Probably the biggest set back I experienced during my recovery was caused by my inability to take it easy. Being a Triathlete with a Rotator cuff tear can be incredibly frustrating, but hang in there as it will get better if you stick with your recovery plan

A Torn Rotator Cuff is no joke and if you’ve suffered one you have my sympathy. But don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world! Make sure you get professional medical advice and maybe use the opportunity to set a new 10K run PB. The main thing is to stick with your recovery programme and all going well you’ll be back to Triathlon before you know it! 

Safe training / recovery!

Click HERE for more information on Injuries and Prevention,

All information provided on is done so in good faith and is not medical advice. If you’re considering changing your fitness routine or making a medical decision, it’s important to consult with a professional first.

One thought on “Triathlon and a Torn Rotator Cuff

  • August 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Most painful injury I ever had (running the dog, fell, and shoulder completely dislocated) , but my swimming is back on track now. Nope! It’s not the end of the world. Good physio to avoid frozen shoulder is critical, and then I found that carefully directed weight-room work helped a lot, and finally a bottle of beer thrown at me from a passing truck at about 50 mph loosened it up a lot but I wouldn’t recommend this approach. Nice article. Thanks! -k @FitOldDog


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