Shoulder Surgery

Shouldering the Pain

Lillian Racicot reaching for a light bulb after successful shoulder surgeryLillian Racicot, 67, recalls bending to pull open the bottom drawer of her freezer and pain shooting through her arm. Afterwards, she couldn't lift her arm for a week. Gradually the discomfort subsided and she forgot about it until a few months later when she went swimming. "I was up against the edge of the pool and I turned to go in the other direction and I had this awful pain," Lillian remembers. "I knew I had to get it checked. It got to the point when I reached up to a top shelf, I needed the other arm to help support it. It ached at night and I lived on aspirin."

Lillian discussed her problem with Dr. Michael P.Brunelli, an orthopedic and hand surgeon at New England Hand Associates in Milford, who had performed surgeries on her before. The practice specializes in treating upper extremity injuries and conditions, including shoulder problems such as dislocations/separations, impingement syndromes, rotator cuff tears, fractures and arthritis. An MRI revealed that Lillian had two tears in her rotator cuff and that the tendons were rubbing on bone. "Age forty appears to be the magic time where we see an increase in people with rotator cuff disease," says Dr. Brunelli. "The assumption is it has to do with the aging process and the way the body metabolizes collagen so it's not as resilient."

Dr. Brunelli felt that the best treatment would be diagnostic arthroscopy, a surgical procedure that would allow him to look at the inside of the joint through a thin viewing instrument called an arthroscope. This surgical instrument has a light source and a video camera attached to it so that images from the camera can be viewed on a monitor. "Diagnostic arthroscopy involves an evaluation of all the tissues inside the joint and shoulder including cartilage, ligaments and tendons," says Dr. Brunelli. "You remove the inflamed tissue and shave the bone at the top of the shoulder which is often the main part of the problem. This minimally invasive surgery uses small incisions and small portals. There were three places where I placed plastic cannulas to get into the joint. In the old days, you'd have to go through the large muscle group."

Lillian had day surgery at Milford Regional in July. She notes that she had a positive experience at the Medical Center. "Everyone was very nice and everything went fine," she says. "I went in about 7:30 a.m. and got out about 1:30 p.m.  Afterwards, Lillian wore a sling for six weeks followed by physical therapy. 

"Some people with a simple arthroscopy can come back in a week feeling better. For patients with a rotator cuff tear, it could take six to 12 months to get full range of motion. If there's no tear, the patient feels better and can start moving quickly. If it's tendonitis or tendinosis that didn't respond to treatment, you're shaving the bone to prevent it from doing more damage and possibly tearing the tendon."

Lillian says she is relieved that she went to Dr. Brunelli and Milford Regional for her injury, especially after speaking to a young woman in her twenties who had the same surgery at another hospital.  "A year later, that girl was still having trouble," Lillian notes. "I'm in my sixties and now I'm fine. I don't even think about it.  I can reach and not worry about it. Before, I couldn't even get things off the spice rack. I'm very satisfied. Everything went very smoothly. "

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