Grant Bailey, an active 17-year-old senior at Del Norte high school in Crescent City, Calif., has been playing sports since he was a little kid.
And though football, wrestling, tennis and surfing have always been an important part of Bailey's life, he has suffered numerous sports injuries. Bailey dislocated his right shoulder seven times, and later, dislocated his left shoulder twice.
"I would repeatedly dislocate my shoulder and then it would hurt for a couple of weeks, but when it started to feel better, I'd jump right back into sports," says Bailey. "Eventually, I couldn't lift my right shoulder and it was more painful than it had ever been before."
Bailey was referred to Dr. Christina Allen at the UCSF Medical Center Sports Medicine Center. Allen, an avid soccer player, specializes in treating knee and shoulder injuries, including advanced arthroscopic surgery requiring only small incisions. She also serves as the orthopedic doctor for the women's soccer team at the University of California, Berkeley, the U.S. National Women's Soccer Team and the U.S. Taekwondo. In addition, she has worked as a volunteer doctor at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
During Bailey's first visit, Allen tested his right shoulder strength, motion, and stability. Normally, the shoulder provides more motion than any other joint in the body. It is like a ball and a socket that relies on ligaments and tendons to keep it in place. The stabilizing ligaments attach to the front of the shoulder socket by combining to create a labrum (kind of like a soft bumper or cushion), which resists dislocation. When a person dislocates their shoulder, the labrum is separated from the edge of the socket, making the shoulder prone to repeat dislocations. This ligament separation is known as a labral tear or bankart lesion.
Allen recommended that Bailey have a procedure called arthroscopic bankart repair, which typically restores the stability of the shoulder joint and the shoulders normal function.
"Other than academics, sports were my life, so when Dr. Allen told me that I had to have surgery if I wanted to continue playing sports, it was a huge shock," remembers Bailey, who underwent his first bankart repair surgery on his right shoulder in July 2004 and his repair on his left shoulder in July 2006. "But if I ever wanted to be active again, I knew it was definitely worth it."
During an arthroscopic bankart repair procedure, tiny incisions are made in the front and back of the shoulder to allow access into the shoulder joint. An arthroscope—a small video camera—is used to look into the shoulder and small instruments are inserted into these incisions to perform the procedure. The surgeon then drills a few small holes into the edge of the bony socket and places anchors with sutures into these holes. The sutures are then arthroscopically tied around the torn labrum in order to reattach it to the socket. By reattaching the front "bumper," stability to the shoulder is restored.
"There is a big benefit to patients such as Grant having this surgery arthroscopically," says Allen. "Aside from not having a large incision, the patient has less post-operative pain, and regains their rotator cuff strength much faster after the surgery. The patient still has to stay in a sling for several weeks after the surgery to allow the labrum to heal back to the socket, but the overall recovery time is faster than an 'open' large incision bankart repair."
Following his first surgery, Bailey participated in physical therapy for one year to strengthen his shoulder. After his right shoulder recovered, he dislocated his left shoulder twice while playing sports and had to undergo arthroscopic bankart repair of his left shoulder in July 2006. Bailey then completed three months of physical therapy.
Bailey says his shoulder is feeling much better and he is able to play non-contact sports such as tennis. However, he is still rehabilitating his left shoulder and is not yet able to rejoin his school's football team, The Warriors, where he has played left tackle, offense and linebacker. But Bailey has taken up a new position at his school—co-president of the student body.
"I think serving as the co-president of the student body makes up for sports because I'm able to participate in the school spirit and make school history," says Bailey, who is also busy applying to colleges for the fall. He hopes to attend University of California Berkeley and play on the Cal football team.
Story written in January 2007.
Abby Sinnott is a freelance writer in San Francisco.