Wear and tear: Identifying, repairing and recovering from shoulder pain

August 28, 2023 | by Kate Gawlik, RN

The aches and pains of aging or overusing a joint in a sport or activity is something most can relate to. For Tony Scarpino, it was 30 years of golf that brought him into the office of Zahab Ahsan, MD, an Edward-Elmhurst Health orthopedic surgeon fellowship-trained in sports medicine,to investigate severe left shoulder pain.

Scarpino viewed his pain as “wear and tear,” but X-rays and an MRI revealed that Scarpino had a torn rotator cuff, no cartilage in the shoulder joint and arthritis.

“‘Wear and tear’ usually refers to arthritic changes in joints that occur either due to an autoimmune condition, like rheumatoid arthritis, or as in Tony’s case, the use of the joint over the years, called osteoarthritis. There are many reasons for arthritis, including prior injury, surgery, genetics, medical conditions and aggressive use of the joint. Having strong muscles around the joint to protect it helps,” says Jay Sridhar, PT, DPT, CMT, OCS, a physical therapist with Edward-Elmhurst Health, who worked with Scarpino.

Scarpino had a reverse shoulder replacement surgery in October 2022. Dr. Ahsan was recommended by Scarpino’s primary doctor. Online research spotlighted Dr. Ahsan as a top surgeon for athletes of all sports, as well as shoulder injuries.

“At an initial meeting with Dr. Ahsan, I expressed that I enjoy the game of golf and that my motivation was very high to return to the golf course as soon as possible,” Scarpino says. “We developed a plan for my surgery and recovery at this time.”

The recovery plan

“Tony presented a unique challenge as a 5 Handicap in golf, despite advanced shoulder arthritis. My goal was to successfully alleviate his pain and restore function to his shoulder while maintaining elite-level performance on the golf course.

“To help accomplish this task, a CT scan-guided 3D-custom template for Scarpino’s shoulder was made to optimize the placement of the shoulder implants. Thereby, leveraging computer modeling technology to help make Tony’s performance predictable,” Dr. Ahsan states.

The recovery was not easy for an active Scarpino, who had limited use of his arm and shoulder for the first four weeks. He remained driven, attending twice-per-week physical therapy sessions and, before Christmas, he was swinging a golf club 10 times per day in his basement.

In January, Scarpino hit golf balls off of mats in Florida, progressing to grass by the end of the month and playing on the course on Feb. 1.

Scarpino explains, “From day one of rehab, I told Jay that this condition would not control me, but that I would control the condition. She never gave up on me, and I never gave up on her and Dr. Ahsan’s plan. Exercises, drills and stretches were all designed specifically for me to reach my goal. When I was not at therapy, I would work out in my basement for 45 minutes to one hour each off day. My workouts built upon what I did in therapy.”

Custom care is what Sridhar focuses on for every patient. An initial evaluation determines the plan of care, where goals are set based on the patient’s needs.

“As physical therapists, we are able to identify muscles that are weak or tight and figure out how it affects movement biomechanically. As patients progress post-surgery, it becomes very important to identify and address residual deficits periodically for return to maximal functioning. Making every session count helps with faster progress.

“At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we pride ourselves for providing customized care for every patient trying to live up to the vision of: Safe, seamless, personal. Every patient. Every time,” Sridhar says.

Pain-free tee times

Since the surgery, Scarpino continues to golf in two leagues and several tournaments throughout the year, without any range of motion or distance losses. What is different about his game today is he now plays pain-free and he has returned to his previous level of golf with aspirations to be better than ever!

He says, “My story is a testament to the dedication of Dr. Ahsan and Jay and how they work together for a common person. Their passion for their profession is overwhelming. I am so happy that they were the ones who worked with me and got me back to golf. They are superheroes and deserve all the accolades and praise.”

The orthopedic team of experts at Edward-Elmhurst Medical Groups-Orthopedics provides exceptional orthopedic, sports medicine and podiatry services for patients of all ages. We use the least invasive treatments necessary to help you get back to the activities you enjoy, as quickly as possible. Learn more.

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