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Kara: Labral Tear

A Shoulder Injury Returns

Kara was a swimmer in college. But when tendonitis in her right shoulder became more painful with each stroke, it eventually ended her swimming career.

After setting swimming aside, Kara was okay. Her shoulder pain lessened, and she could manage it in that condition.

Nearly 25 years later, Kara — married with three children — is a fitness instructor in Donegal, Pa. with her own dance/fitness studio and swimming school.

She lives an extremely active lifestyle. Along with spending time with her family, she helps kids and adults find their passion and meet their fitness goals every day.

But her active life led to the return of her shoulder pain in early 2018. And by February of that year, she had torn her labrum.

“It wasn’t sudden,” said Kara, who was in the gym when her pain resurfaced.

“With each exercise, it hurt a little bit more. By the next day, I couldn’t even raise my arm above my head,” she said.

"At that point, my shoulder felt even better than before I injured it. I don't think I realized how bad it was - and how bad it was getting - over the 25 years." — Kara

Searching for a Surgeon

At first, Kara thought she should just rest her shoulder for a while, hoping the pain would subside on its own. But it soon became clear that she needed to see a doctor.

A friend suggested that Kara see Albert Lin, MD, at UPMC Sports Medicine, and she had an appointment in under two weeks.

After an MRI and exam of Kara’s shoulder, Dr. Lin diagnosed her with a complete labral tear. He compared her labrum to a “rope that continued to fray until it tore from the bone.” And she had calcium deposits in her rotator cuff tendons.

Dr. Lin also noticed wearing of the cartilage and tissue in Kara’s shoulder. Given her active lifestyle, he suggested she have surgery to repair the labral tear in her shoulder.

“Dr. Lin really takes time to find out your background and why you want the surgery,” said Kara.

This way, Dr. Lin could recommend proper treatment that wouldn't hinder Kara’s way of life. He took time to show Kara her tests, explaining what he saw in her shoulder and how he planned to repair it.

A Worthwhile Shoulder Surgery

Kara’s surgery came just three weeks after her final appointment with Dr. Lin.

“He was really good about understanding the urgency and sensitivity of timing the surgery. I had to work it into my job the best that I could,” Kara said.

He was able to schedule her surgery exactly six weeks before the start of her summer swimming school. And while she couldn’t use her arm yet, she could still get into the water to teach.

At UPMC East in Monroeville, Pa., Dr. Lin performed an arthroscopic posterior labral repair and superior labrum anterior and posterior (SLAP) repair. He also did a subacromial decompression and broke up the calcium in Kara's shoulder joint.

Although Kara said Dr. Lin prepared her for how extensive the surgery would be, it surprised her how major it really was. Still, “it was a very positive experience because I got better almost daily,” she said.

Kara’s right arm was to remain in a sling with little to no movement for four weeks following her surgery. She then had passive physical therapy (PT) for four to six weeks and active PT for more than three months after that.

“Being that this is my field, I was able to do the exercises outside of PT, too,” said Kara.

It's this dedication that likely lead to her exceptional recovery.

When asked what advice she’d give someone going through the same thing, Kara said go to PT.

“Do your PT and keep at it! It’s not comfortable to begin with. It actually hurts to begin with, but that’s where the recovery happens,” she said.

Outstanding Care at UPMC Sports Medicine

Five months after shoulder surgery, Kara said she was 75 percent back to normal — an impressive bounce-back rate, to say the least.

“At that point, my shoulder felt even better than before I injured it. I don’t think I realized how bad it was — and how bad it was getting — over those 25 years,” said Kara. “Now, I have a fully functioning shoulder. I can do everything, and it feels so much better.”

Interviewed more than a year after her surgery, Kara expressed satisfaction with her treatment and experience with Dr. Lin. She's thankful she can now live her life, actively and free of pain.

Her strength and flexibility have returned, and her shoulder is working 100 percent.

Kara also gave gratitude to her family, who were “enormous supporters of [her] through the surgery and recovery.”

“I feel so strongly that Dr. Lin is such a wonderful surgeon,” Kara said.

Since her surgery, her brother, nephew, and close friend have all injured their shoulders. She referred them all to Dr. Lin, as she believes it's vital to get the right surgeon.

“Dr. Lin is just a great person in general,” Kara said. “I can’t say enough good things about him.”