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Published on December 13, 2019

Rotator Cuff Surgery: Tracey’s Story

Nothing—not even shoulder pain—could stop this golfer from getting back into the “swing” of things.

When Tracey’s right rotator cuff pain became even worse, she knew it was time to change her game.

Tracey Rivas on the golf courseTracey R. of Stamford, CT is a member of the LPGA Amateur Golf Association, Fairfield County Chapter. When she’s not working at her software company or on the course in the middle of a tournament, you can find her golfing on the beach during her travels. The perfect game of golf, however, requires optimal shoulder strength.

“Golf is a funny game,” Tracey said. “It gets addicting and you can’t get enough of it. There’s always the drive to improve, improve, improve.”

Tracey admits to having shoulder pain that came and went for over a decade. In late 2017, the pain worsened, and she was unable to pinpoint any one cause. When daily tasks like lifting and brushing her hair became challenging, she sought out treatment options.

“Tracey’s rotator cuff tear was likely from repetitive stress over time on the tendon and not related to a specific injury like a fall,” Dr. Corinne VanBeek, Orthopedic Surgeon, Shoulder and Elbow Specialist, explained. “During a golf swing, a significant amount of stress is placed on the muscles and tendons. This intense stress damages the tendons and can cause the golfer to develop shoulder pain and weakness from overuse. Also, as we age, the tendon naturally wears down.”

Tracey and Dr. VanBeek make a plan.

Tracey connected with Dr. VanBeek through the power of digital marketing: a simple Google search on shoulder surgeons in the area resulted in their first appointment.

“I really appreciated Dr. VanBeek’s honesty and guidance,” Tracey recalled. “She never pushed surgery on me, and she helped me to understand my options,” she said.

Moreover, Tracey felt Dr. VanBeek respected her lifestyle and goals to be back on the golf course for a tournament the following season. Together, they decided rotator cuff surgery was the best course of action in order to help make that happen. Her surgery took place in October of 2018 at Stamford Health’s Tully Health Center followed by a course of physical therapy for a few months, also at Tully Health Center.

“Tracey is doing well after surgery. Her golf game is back on track and daily activities are no longer painful or limited,” said Dr. VanBeek.

In the months following her surgery, Tracey worked with Lindsay Holmes, PT, DPT, EdD, OCS, MTC, Physical Therapist, to regain her strength and mobility. “Tracey was determined and had already had a significant reduction in her pain right after surgery,” Lindsay said.

As her treatment plan progressed, Tracey and Lindsay began to look not just at her shoulder, but at her core as well as her lower and upper body mechanics. “The most important aspect was establishing that Tracey could return to the things she loved. It’s about incremental gains and celebrating small wins and improvements,” explained Lindsay. “Having a holistic view of Tracey as a person and as a golfer helped us to better achieve her goals.”

Full recovery from shoulder surgery can take up to a year. “It’s important for the patient to be very committed to their exercise routine for the long haul,” elaborated Lindsay. 

“Excellent outcomes after surgery require frequent communication among the patient, physical therapist and surgeon to tailor the recovery to the patient and his or her ultimate goals,” Dr. VanBeek added.

Tracey recalled, “My care at [Stamford Health’s] Tully Health Center was excellent—in fact, I had had both my knees operated on there years before. I can’t say enough about the staff and about Dr. VanBeek and Lindsay. They’re all fantastic.”

Tracey is happy to report that after getting back on the course in April of 2019, she had a successful golf season compared to the year before. “I won ‘longest drive’ and ‘closest to the pin,’” Tracey said. “It was a pretty good year.”

Tracey continues to travel to her favorite destinations—Santorini, Greece, and Mexico—and spend time with her husband and dog, Max E. Doodle.

To those going through shoulder pain or who are unsure about shoulder surgery, Tracey advised, “Work with a doctor who’s dedicated to helping you meet your personal goals, whatever they may be. It’s important to figure out what’s best for you and connect with that person. For me, that person was Dr. VanBeek.”

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