Jake Locker’s nights were not filled with sweet dreams of the pain-free days to come.
In the weeks that immediately followed offseason shoulder surgery the Tennessee Titans quarterback never kept his eyes closed long enough for his subconscious to conjure visions of the future — good, bad or otherwise.
“The first month probably, just trying to sleep was the hardest part,” he said. “I had to sleep on the couch or the recliner because I couldn’t put too much pressure on where you’ve been repaired.
“You only probably sleep for about an hour at a time. It takes a half-hour or so trying to get back to sleep. That definitely was the most uncomfortable part of it.”
That was back in January and early February, shortly after the Titans completed a 6-10 season.
No doubt, those hours in the dark of night propped up in the living room, left arm in a sling, provided some lonely moments for the 2011 first-round pick.
Had he waited to undergo the procedure, though, he and several others among Middle Tennessee’s most elite athletes could have formed a support group. Nashville Predators forwards Colin Wilson and Paul Gaustad underwent similar operations even before their season ended. Their teammate Matt Halischuk had it done shortly after the final game, as did Vanderbilt point guard Kedren Johnson.
Shoulder stabilization surgery might be very much in vogue around here, but it’s far from an elective procedure that will become the norm. It’s only for those who truly need it.
“It’s a long haul, the shoulders,” Predators center Mike Fisher, who had shoulder surgery of his own in 2012, said. “It’s a lot of hard work. It’s slow at times. But when it’s all said and done, they’ll be so much better.
“Those guys [on the Predators] had shoulders pop in and out for a long time and were dealing with it. It’s not fun. They’ll feel like new come training camp, I’m sure.”
A shoulder, basically a ball-in-socket mechanism, can dislocate due to trauma to the labrum, ligaments or rotator cuff — all part of the joint.
Whatever the specifics, the effect is pretty much the same. Once it happens, it is likely to happen again, and with each subsequent dislocation another becomes more likely.
“I don’t know if you’d call it a freak injury with the fact that it happens pretty consistently, and you can tell by our team this year that it happens quite a bit,” Wilson said. “It sucks because I’m sure if I wouldn’t have been in that exact position it wouldn’t have happened like that. Yeah, I wish I didn’t go in that way.”
Wilson’s season, which was on track to be the best of his professional career, ended when he was checked to the ice with his arms outstretched in a March 9 contest against Minnesota.
Most others, however, played through it as long or as often as they could.
Gaustad actually brought shoulder issues with him when he was acquired in a trade with Buffalo late in 2011-12. The regular reoccurrences sent him to the sideline four different times in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign before he finally had to throw in the towel — figuratively speaking, of course.
Locker initially hurt his left (non-throwing) shoulder in the 2012 opener against New England. He missed five games after a second occurrence three weeks later and then played with it the rest of the way. He did his best to view the fact that it popped out of place from time to time as nothing more than a nuisance.
“You get used to it, I guess,” he said.
Johnson, on the other hand, was the only Vanderbilt, player who started all 33 games last season even though he first injured his right (shooting) shoulder in the first practice after Christmas. He led the Commodores in points, assists and steals even though from time to time he had to go to the bench or the trainers room until things got back in place.
All of them have to follow the same path back to full health, which will take time but should be completed before the start of their respective camps.
The rehabilitation from shoulder stabilization surgery is approximately four months. Locker passed that milestone roughly four weeks ago, but the others still have the bulk of their work ahead of them.
“Everything everybody told me about was that it was going to be horrible,” Wilson said a couple weeks removed from his. “So far it’s been fine. I’m really optimistic about it. All the exercises maybe get a little bit annoying because you’re doing them three times a day. At the same time I’ve got nothing else to do. So it’s not too bad.”
Locker already is finished.
With the Titans set to move into the next phase of the offseason conditioning program next week he said there are no limitations on what he can or can’t do. Likewise, there are no lingering effects — none that he notices, at least — from the injury or the surgery.
“I don’t know a whole lot about if it’s supposed to be better or stronger,” he said. “I can tell you that it feels just the same as it did before I got hurt. … I haven’t had any moments where I’m like, ‘Aw, I can feel that.’ It’s felt great. It feels normal and I’m excited about that.
“… It’s kind of what I expected. I didn’t expect to have to miss anything at this point. I think I’m 20 weeks or something like that. The way I look at it, if I wasn’t ready to go it was on me [because] I didn’t do what I was supposed to, to take care of my body. I expected to be here and not miss anything.”
Wilson, like so many others, expected the worst, particularly at the outset. It turned out for him that wasn’t the case.
“I was told it was going to be the most painful experience of my life waking up from that, and I didn’t have any pain,” he said. “… There are certain guys who have had it and I know they went out and bought a La-Z-Boy so they could just sleep upright. With me I was fine. I went right to bed. I just put a pillow underneath my arm and I’m good to go.”
He was so encouraged by his initial experience that a little over two weeks ago — rather than wait until next summer — he had the same procedure performed on his other shoulder.
When something is in style, some people can’t get enough of it.