Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Recovering from shoulder surgery: the BRA conundrum

This post is inspired by a search that showed up on my blog stats this week, and was something I have had to think about a lot over the past two years, but especially since my surgery....

Inspired by a search from google: 
"how to find the best bra for after shoulder surgery?"

This is a real issue! Since I have thought so much about it this year, and other people are obviously looking for the information too (and I've searched myself.... with not much success), I figured it was worth an entire blog post!  Finding a good, comfortable bra is never easy anyway - add in any kind of injury/ pain/ shoulder problems to the affected area and it's an entire bra minefield out there!

I can count 16 doctors and 5 main physios/ shoulder therapists I've seen specifically for my shoulder.  ONE of the doctors was female and ONE of the other therapists was female (and both were pre-surgery).  So, basically, the majority of my shoulder-specific, surgery-specific, and post-surgical care and rehab has been carried out by males..... most of whom, I am quite sure, would have no clue as to the best answer for this question!

To get a bit personal first... I actually lost a LOT of weight between my injury and surgery (mainly from the pain related nausea/ inability to eat, plus stress on my body, I guess) and was borderline underweight with a size 0 being too big at the time of my surgery.  At that time I was wearing soft lacy-strapped tank tops I could step into (nothing tight could go over my head).  I am very grateful that I didn't have to worry about the bra issue until a few months after surgery when I - healthily - started putting on some weight and getting a little shape back again.  However, I think I have bought 6 different styles of bra in that time - all of which have helped (or hurt) at different times.

My main requirements, at various times in the (ongoing) healing process:

1. no metal digging into my spine or shoulder blade

2. no wire digging into my ribs, or the lateral side of my scapula, or under my arm

3. no straps, or very very very very soft straps (and no metal bits in the wrong place)

4. or (some days) racer-back straps - depending on what part of the shoulder is sore (or the sorest), these avoid touching the shoulder blades and come closer to the neck rather than putting pressure on the actual shoulder capsule

5. no seams, or squares of thick material sewn together and digging into my ribs/ scapula/ shoulder

6. Something I can fasten myself!!

..........a) something I could initially step into,  then progress to putting over my head - no crazy reaching behind my back, or attempting to 'swivel' one-handed!

.........b) a front fastening - no crazy impossible reaching or swivelling required

..........c) no fastening - even better (e.g. bandeau style)

7. very adjustable straps...... perhaps not the best look for every shape, but definitely necessary to ease pain levels/ increase comfort levels either throughout the day, or on bad days ........ ideally without metal bits that dig into you anywhere - don't think I solved that conundrum really... just finding the right spot for the adjustable sliders has worked for me.

Bra #1: The ultimate in comfort
My favourite, definitely, has to be these rather shapeless, racer-backed, but wire-free, seam-free, can-step-in-and-out-of-them, don't-even-have-to-wear-both-straps by "Barely There" (note: it may say you can wear them strapless -this does not work.  Except maybe for 5 mins in a doctor's office to display your shoulder blade; but not under a dress where it may shimmy its way down to your belly button.  Lesson learned, lesson shared!  At least I had the dress on....!)

For anyone reading stateside, they come in a two-pack (the model has two on) I have found these at Macy's, at Kohls, at a Bali outlet, but even better - at half the price: "Barely There for Target" - exactly the same ($16 for two)!  They come in lots of bright colours, are extremely comfortable and are also less revealing than most bikinis, so being asked to strip off your top in a doctor's office really doesn't feel as embarrassing (although I think the more times you have to do that, the less embarrassing it becomes anyway....) - and as I said earlier, you can take one or two straps down, revealing a full view of your shoulder blades while keeping yourself covered and secure! 

(Just don't put them in the tumble drier - they WILL unravel and they WILL tie every single other thing in the machine together until the only solution is scissors. And a trip to Target.)

Anyway, those are my favourite and are comfortable to sleep in too, especially when weak muscles need support to stop any pulling causing extra pain. My only complaint with these would be when neck muscles get tight, then I give them a break for a day or two and opt for.....

Bra #2: the shaped bandeau
I went through a strapless phase for a while when I found any kind of strap pulling tightly on my shoulders to be painful (the strapless phase still resurrects itself when my neck pain increases and the racerbacks irritate it a little). I bought a couple of "Charmed" brand strapless bras from Macy's - with detachable straps, (so one strap could be added if necessary).  These ones don't have a clip at the back - so no metal to dig in to sensitive vertebrae; can step into it or get it over your head (if you can manage that) and it has a little more shape:

(Image from here)

I can't seem to find them on Macy's website, but I have definitely seen them there recently and also in a Maidenform outlet (yeah, we have a great outlet mall very close by...)

Bra #3: the totally strapless bandeau
The other bandeau-style I like is by American Eagle's "aerie".  It's a bit tighter around the top, with no strap options, so on days where I have some inflammation I prefer not to wear it, but generally it is very comfortable and stays in place very securely - moreso than the "Charmed" one (although neither of these have ever managed to slip down to my waist!).  Plus, it comes in very cool colours too...
(Image from aerie)

Bra #4: the 'some tops just NEED a 'real' bra

This one fits some of my criteria, but is definitely not an all-day bra for me right now.  Honestly, this is probably because of my rib involvement, so for someone with 'just' shoulder issues, it might not be an issue.  It is strapless, racer-back, front fastening, and has a bit of shape.  It does have little metal adjustable clips, but because of the racer back, these can be positioned in a way where they don't affect the shoulder blade at all. The lace is very soft and means the 'tightness' from a single strap is evenly distributed - much more comfortable.  My only problem with it is that it has thicker squares of material where the edge of the underwire would be and this presses on a sensitive rib 'trigger point' of pain for me.

(Pic from Maidenform. not the best but it shows it from the back... 
for the 'sexy model-in-a-bra' photo, click on the link)

Bra #5: the 'some tops need normal straps' option

Also from Barely There (appropriately named, I guess!) I have found this one to be the most comfortable when I need non-racerback straps.  For me, this means the 'normal' straps do go right across my scapula, which is still super-sensitive, so this is the most comfortable option I've found.  It does have a normal back closure and I probably couldn't have managed it for several months after my surgery, but my right arm can contribute a little something to that 'swivel' now, so it does work!

(Image from Barely There)

Bra #6: Intelliskin sports bra
My newest purchase.... I decided to purchase an Intelliskin zipper sports bra to see how it compared with the T-shirt (which I posted about here last year).  The T-shirt is helpful in supporting my rib pain, but it is still very difficult for me to get on and off - I can do it ALL BY MYSELF NOW!! - but it is pretty awkward, and it is very hot for summer.  The zipper collection came out after I already had my (complimentary - lucky me!) T-shirt and I decided I'd try the sports bra for the summer.

(Image from Intelliskin - there are better images of the back on their website, 
but it wouldn't let me save them)

I've only had it a couple of weeks and the instructions say to wear an hour or so a day initially to let your body get used to the posture and the muscles it supports and stimulates (more info at Intelliskin's website).  This was ordered specifically to help my scapula stay in the correct place, so it's going to take a while for it to get used to feeling different - it's been so used to being in the 'wrong' place for so long, and my muscles really don't know what's going on, so I am taking it slowly (both on medical advice and the 'listen to your body' advice). I do find the elastic strap begins to push in at my ribs (on the sore points) after I've had it on for a while - that will be something that will improve with time.

In terms of bras, I think it meets all my requirements - no metal bits, no uncomfortable straps, no metal to dig in, front fastening, no wire, and no seams that dig in, but it's definitely a full-coverage sports bra (which is what it is designed for).  It is very tight, so it feels like good support right across my back, shoulders and front, but that also means the zip is very tight - I can do it now, although it is still a bit of an effort, so it would definitely have been easier than the over-the-head option last year, but I might have needed some help with the zip.

I do feel when I am allowed to increase my exercises, it will be much more beneficial - at the moment the idea is it is 'helping' my body know the correct position to be in, and assisting with that while I do my very minimal exercise regime.

For anyone wondering about sizing - I am on the small side of the small measurements they give on the site, and it is a very neat (probably perfect) fit on me.  I did wonder about getting the extra small but I made the right decision, so I'd say they are quite small-made.

Also - an important factor (for me) is that all the bras above are not a chest measurement plus cup size - this makes them much more flexible for adjusting/ tightening/ loosening in response to pain as it gives them a bit more flexibility of fit and less rigidity.

SO.... to any men who made it this far - betcha never knew how complicated that could be!

I do hope that somebody somewhere finds the help they were searching for.... the help I couldn't find when I searched before.

And I'm not sure whether this entire post is actually helpful or crazy, so this seemed perfectly fitting:

~ Marilyn Monroe ~

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Two years, Many Lessons

Two years ago today I slipped and fell down a few stairs, well and truly wrecking my shoulder.  Never for a moment did I expect I would still be dealing with the consequences today..... and, I now know (details for another blog entry) I'll be dealing with them for a lot longer.

The past two years have brought with them tears, pain, fear, worry, anxiety, stress, feelings of failure and inadequacy, doubt, and more.  They have also brought many positive lessons, so today I want to focus on those.






Monday, June 17, 2013

Meditation Failure

I can't believe it's halfway through June! The last few weeks have been rather eventful, shoulder-wise.  I keep thinking about writing a blog post and then I really don't know where to stop or start... I'll try to update a bit soon... lots happening though, some not so good stuff for a while, so I am trying some new things.  One is seeing a chiropractor, Dr J - as it seems one of my ribs has been out of place and causing a lot of my pain.  The adjustments are temporarily agony - but just for a split second, and afterwards it does help my pain... also only temporarily's complicated, so perhaps a post on that will come later.  Dr J also has a heated hydrotherapy massage bed, which is my new favourite thing since my new acupuncturist has recommended I stop using my ice machine... which I was seriously addicted to - and made no secret of that.  I feel a little like an alcoholic counting how many days without alcohol - it's been 13 days without ice now......

Dr J has also tried me on "guided meditation".  I told him I would be terrible at this, but I am trying everything and anything thrown at me so here is how the first 22 minute session went: 

(I have noise cancelling headphones on through which the 'calming' voices play and my eyes are closed, but with dark glasses on which flash coloured lights at different times.)

"Imagine you're on a beach"

Ok, favourite beach I've ever been to.. hmmm... I liked a couple in Australia a lot (played them through my head) decided they hadn't been that hot when I was there so went through a couple in Florida, then decided Grand Cayman was definitely my favourite, ok, I am lying on seven mile beach in Cayman... oops, missed what I'm supposed to do next...

"Imagine you are meeting your future self, 5, 10, 15 years from now"

Wtf? I'm supposed to be dealing with things on a day to day basis here - that's what everyone has been telling me ALL day at a time....  I can't imagine that....*panic!*...  missed that next bit....

"Imagine where you live, what kind of car you have....."

How is this meditation? Isn't that a bit superficial... I actually don't care about cars.... why should that matter? Oops.... missed another bit...

".... imagine walking into your hallway"

Ok, I can do this, I'd like a glass atrium with tropical plants.... a big palm tree, maybe a banana would be so cool to grow my own bananas....what other tropical plants are my favourite... oops..... pay attention"

".... Imagine where you see yourself living... Where in the world you would like to be.... What...

Ooh, where would I live if I could live anywhere (run through a dozen countries in my head).  If it was somewhere tropical I could grow bananas outside... I'd definitely pick somewhere tropical.... maybe...  I'd really like a fruit orchard, just a small one... Just think how good everything would taste right off the tree... Hmmmm where would I live? Actually, I think I'm supposed to be thinking of something else now.....

"blah blah blah"

I wonder why the blue light is being flashed into my right eye?   I wonder if it's because my left eye doesn't see as well or if it's supposed to have some neurological effect....  I wonder if it's like the binaural beats thing where it's supposed to induce specific brain waves to make your brain relax... Actually, the binaural beats do that much better, they just make noises, they don't make me think so much.... hmm... maybe if I squeeze my right eye shut tighter, I'll see what the left eye is supposed to see.... (tried it, eventually opened my left eye to see no colour there, felt relieved my left eye is not getting worse.... missed more of the guided stuff)

"Imagine you could go back in time and change something... What would you change?"

Right now?  Well, since the chiropractor has just tortured me by putting my rib into place using his 21st century rack because my muscles are unable to hold it there now and it seems to be pressing my scapula out of place, clearly the first thing that flashes into my head that I would like to change is that I would not have grabbed on when I slipped on the stairs... Actually, if I can change anything, I suppose it would be not falling at all.....

"Imagine what you would say differently, how you could take control of the situation and change it....

Ok.... Clearly not thinking about the right thing here....

"Imagine how you would replay that event in your head as a black and white movie, letting it go far into the past and letting go of it....

Well,  I've done this wrong.... (try to change my thoughts, realise it's too late and now the only image in my mind is watching myself fall downstairs on a black and white TV set... Which really takes on more of a slapstick effect than I think it it supposed to).... Oops.  Again... Pay attention....

"You are in control...

No I'm not, control is an illusion; nobody's in control, we just think we are until something happens and we realise we're not... Einstein said reality was an illusion... Stop thinking philosophically.... rein it in....  Try harder....

"You are in control of everything that is happening to you...

This is crap.

"You can make it all different by deciding you are going to take control of your situation, leaving the past behind you and moving on to the future you envision for yourself.... It is as simple as making that decision...

No it's not.  That's what I've been trying to do for nearly 2 bloody years now.... well, 8 actually if you count everything...  If it was that simple I'd be doing somersaults again.  Make a decision - go to uni, work hard, have surgery, work hard, go to physio, work hard - I've done that.... I've done that until I've cried and nearly passed out with pain.... I do my exercises every day, despite my pain.  I am TRYING to be in control but it's really not as simple as that.... Wouldn't it be great if it was....?  HOW is this helpful...??

"All your problems are behind you..."

Yeah, I really wish they were... But that's kind of why I'm here....

"You can move away from your problems, away from anything that is holding you back....

Well unless you've created some magic thing that lets my consciousness live outside my body right now, that's really not true....  I wonder why the flashing lights are getting faster.... I wonder what that's supposed to do.... it's very bright blue light, I thought that was supposed to wake you up, not soothe you.... I wonder if it's supposed to induce specific brain waves... I think it's delta waves that are supposed to calm you....I think that's what the Buddhist monks achieve through meditation... I must look that up....

"imagine yourself calm, relaxed, let go of any tension... (then two voices started speaking at once - that in itself is not calming.... one was talking about calming thoughts and the other one was talking about negative emotions)

This is weird, I wonder if I'm supposed to be paying attention to both... most people can't really listen to two things at once... I wonder if this is supposed to be subliminal... I remember watching old subliminal adverts before they were banned, I think that was at primary school... They were cool.....I wonder what voice  is supposed to be subliminal... Or maybe I'm meant to pick one to listen to....hmmm....  It also reminds me of that mobile phone advert that used to be on Classic FM before driving and using phones was banned at home.... oops, pay attention...

"If it is an appropriate time for sleep, you will feel yourself falling asleep, peacefully, with no stress and no problems...

It's the middle of the afternoon and I'm in a chiropractor's office... Am I supposed to fall asleep?  I'd rather fall asleep back on the hydrotherapy bed... It's amazing.  I wonder how much they cost... I wonder if you can rent them.... I must look that up too.... Ooops, again.... Pay attention....

"If this is not an appropriate time for sleep you will find yourself feeling awake, and lighter and free from the stress that surrounds you... Full of energy....

If I WAS supposed to fall asleep, wouldn't this wake me back up again... ?These seem very contradictory.... if it is subliminal and subconscious, how is my brain supposed to know what one to listen to.... Also, lighter and free from stress... I've just been told it's normal to be really sore after my adjustments and I generally feel beaten up afterwards...... Ok, it's finished... 

Well, that was a long 22 minutes...

So.... meditation + Gail = big failure! Although strangely I did sleep well that night.  I'm not sure if it had to do with the meditation, or the fact that I'd had 7 hours of sleep out of about 60 by that night....

I'm torn between two quotes here, I think they both apply.... one perhaps more meditation-y, the other definitely more fitting:

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”
“This world is but a canvas to our imaginations.”

  ~ Henry David Thoreau