Brian Wooldridge – Shoulder

Brian Wooldridge’s story

Born and raised in the mid-west, Brian spent most of his life hunting small game such as pheasant and duck. When he moved to Arizona, he was excited for the opportunity to engage in big game hunts, such as elk and deer. One of his goals was to hunt elk with a bow. Brian’s chance to do so finally happened in September 2012 when his name was drawn for a bull elk archery tag. 

He made all the arrangements for the big hunt and was loading his truck with everything he could possibly need for the two-week camping/hunting trip. As he lifted the 150-gallon-capacity ice chest into the back of his truck, he felt an excruciating pop in his left shoulder; the sound was almost as loud as the pain was intense. Despite the pain (even driving was extremely painful), Brian was determined to go hunting. He told himself he could endure the pain long enough to make a shot and fill his tag. After two long weeks with no success and ongoing pain, he returned home.

Exactly four weeks to the day of the initial injury, Brian was telling his story of pain and injury to orthopaedic surgeon Joel Rohrbough, M.D., at Northern Arizona Orthopaedics. Brian chose Dr. Rohrbough because the doctor had cared for his daughter following a soccer injury and he knew and trusted him.

Tests revealed Brian tore his acromioclavicular, or AC, ligament located in the top of the shoulder. Dr. Rohrbough explained the ligament had the capacity to heal itself and that the ligament could not be repaired surgically. Since Brian was already four weeks post injury, it was too late for a sling or immobilization. When asked why he didn’t come in right after the injury occurred, he explained he knew he would be told to immobilize and use a sling and he was not willing to do that as he had waited six years to get drawn for elk and he intended to hunt. Brian agreed to take it easy and minimize use of the shoulder, in hopes the ligament would heal itself.

After being in the sling for four weeks and feeling pretty good, Brian began a renovation project in his home, which required the removal of carpet and the installation of hardwood flooring. Within minutes of pulling up the old carpet, his pain increased, but Brian continued – pushing, pulling, crawling and lifting.

During Thanksgiving week, the pain was so unbearable he returned to see Dr. Rohrbough, who was a bit dismayed at Brian’s activities. Dr. Rohrbough gave Brian a cortisone shot to help decrease the pain and told him he needed to keep the shoulder still – no hunting, no heavy lifting, no home renovations. However, with another archery hunt just around the corner, this was not an option, but Brian did his best to use his shoulder as little as possible.

As the pain seemed to subside, Brian’s activity increased. While working out in February, he attempted a set of push-ups. The intense pain returned and he made an appointment to see Dr. Rohrbough. Another set of tests revealed the torn ligament and continued use caused bone spurs and arthritis to develop in the shoulder. Surgery was recommended.

However, this was not a good time for surgery as fire season was just around the corner. In his role as wildlife biologist, his specialty was habit restoration for animals and plants following a forest fire. And, he often found himself volunteering to fight a fire.

In an effort to stay strong, Brain gathered his bow and rubber-tipped arrows to do some target shooting. After just three shots he was nearly in tears from the pain. He made another appointment with Dr. Rohrbough who once again stressed immobilization and surgery. Once again, Brain said it was not a good time as they had a family vacation including deep-sea fishing planned in June. Compliance would have to wait.

Finally in July, nearly one year after the injury, Brian went in for surgery. The outpatient procedure was performed arthroscopically through three small incisions. According to Dr. Rohrbough, Brian “got lucky,” as there was no rotator cuff damage. The procedure included scraping to remove the bone spurs and arthritis and cleaning up the joint where other rough spots had formed. Dr. Rohrbough described Brian’s shoulder as “being very angry” from the overuse and lack of immobilization and healing time.

Immediately following surgery, the pain in Brian’s shoulder was nearly gone; certainly far less than before the surgery. Brian’s arm was placed in a sling and he was sent home with instructions to keep the shoulder still for at least two weeks. This time he listened and complied.

Two weeks post-surgery, Brian started rehabilitation with Kelly Fosberg, D.P.T., a physical therapist with DeRosa Physical Therapy.  The first day of therapy was encouraging as Brain had nearly 100-percent rotation and approximately 80-percent of his strength in the shoulder. The ultimate goal was to be able to shoot his bow again, so many of the exercises focused on movements that would enable him to hunt again. Brian strictly adhered to Fosberg’s instructions and rehabilitation plan – no running, no biking, no home renovations, no bow shooting.

By mid-October, he was released to begin shooting his bow and was able to do so at his pre-injury draw poundage. Unfortunately, Brian has not been drawn again for an elk archery tag, but that hasn’t stopped him from hunting deer or javelina, or assisting others on their hunts.

Every time I draw my bow, I think of Dr. Rohrbough and the team at NAO and Kelly Fosberg, my physical therapist, says Brian. “Without them, I would not be able to hunt or pull back my bow with confidence. I owe it all to Dr. Rohrbough and his team at NAO.”

Now, three years later, Brian has no recurring pain and his continuing to hunt and work and attend his kids sporting events. His kids are also becoming bow hunters and he looks forward to many great times hiking and camping with family and friends.

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