Compartment Syndrome and Labrum Tears

Twin set of injuries meets one physician solution

As every serious or even casual athlete knows, injuries are a part of any sports activity. High school athletics are no exception, with numbers and severity of injuries sustained by teen athletes rivaling those in college and professional leagues. Just ask twins Alex and Sean Vercellone of Springfield, Virginia. Both were varsity high school football players. Both participated in sports year-round. And both suffered major sports-related injuries.

Fortunately, both brothers also had their injuries treated by Dr. J.R. Rudzki of Washington Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. Here are their stories.

Alex, Part 1: Compartment Syndrome

Several years ago, when Alex was a member of the West Springfield High School football team, he noticed that during long-distance running drills, his calf often swelled, becoming extremely tight and painful. “We went to several doctors and even a podiatrist and no one could figure out what the problem was,” said Alex. “So my family and I did some research and concluded that what I might have was exercise-induced compartment syndrome, in which muscle fascia was impeding the ability of my calf muscles to expand naturally when exerted, causing pressure to build up.”

The relatively low success rate of surgeries to treat compartment syndrome was worrisome to Alex’s parents, as were the possible side effects of nerve damage and inability of the muscle to function normally again. However, in their research on physicians who treated compartment syndrome, they came across Dr. Rudzki and Washington Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.

“When we talked to Dr. Rudzki, he explained the procedure to treat compartment syndrome to us and why he was confident that he could do it without the risk of any dangerous outcomes,” said Alex. “He told us that sometimes doctors perform the procedure on patients who might not have needed it or didn’t have the right tests done, but he assured us that I really did need the surgery and that he could do it successfully. Afterward we felt really comfortable with Dr. Rudzki and decided to move forward with him.”

The procedure involved making incisions in the fascia surrounding compartments throughout Alex’s calf muscles to provide additional capacity for expansion. Following the surgery, Alex underwent two to three months of physical therapy to strengthen his calf muscles and ankles. Soon afterwards, he was running again, this time without any pain.

Alex, Part 2: Right shoulder surgery

Although Alex’s leg condition was effectively treated, he was just beginning his stint as Dr. Rudzki’s patient. For a long time, Alex’s right shoulder was constantly sore from weight lifting and training for football. However, as he recovered from compartment syndrome surgery, his shoulder pain suddenly grew worse. Alex said, “It got to the point where it was just unbearable. I got an MRI and found out that I had anterior and posterior tears in my labrum.”

Alex returned to Dr. Rudzki, who performed surgery on the shoulder. He said, “Apparently my shoulder had gone through a lot of trauma because Dr. Rudzki told me later that the procedure took an hour longer than he anticipated because of all of the areas that needed to be repaired.” Four months of physical therapy followed, and it would be another two to three months before Alex’s shoulder felt like it was back to normal.

Alex, Part 3: Left shoulder surgery

It stood to reason that if Alex’s right shoulder was severely damaged by his weight lifting and training for football, then his left shoulder probably would have been subjected to the same wear and tear. An examination confirmed a torn labrum in that shoulder as well.

“So just as I was about recovered from my first shoulder surgery, I had the same procedure on my left shoulder,” said Alex. “Basically, from the start of my junior year until the end of my senior year, I was continuously preparing for, having, and then recovering from a surgical procedure.”

“Thankfully, the left shoulder wasn’t as badly injured as my right one. After Dr. Rudzki operated on the left one, my physical therapy was a bit less painful and didn’t take quite as long as with my right one. In addition, I was able to get back to full strength sooner. Right now my shoulder feels great—every once in a while it gets a little sore after working out, but after resting for a day or two, it’s back to feeling fine. ”

Sean: His turn for shoulder surgery

Sean’s experience wasn’t quite the ordeal that Alex’s was. But he underwent shoulder surgery just the same.

“My injury was slightly different in that the cause of my shoulder problem was from playing in a football game,” Sean said. “I got hit on the shoulder at an awkward angle. Immediately after the play I thought I was fine because I didn’t really feel that much pain, probably due to my adrenaline flowing in the heat of the game. But the following week, I had unbearable pain and could barely lift my arm above my head or even have it hanging by my side.”

This happened while brother Alex was getting ready for his second shoulder surgery, so the family already had a well-established relationship with Dr. Rudzki. He examined Sean’s shoulder and, to no one’s surprise, identified a torn labrum.

Sean said, “After Dr. Rudzki diagnosed the problem, he gave me two options because he knew that I really wanted to continue playing football, if possible, that season, which was my senior year. He said he could perform the surgery immediately, which would address the problem, but would mean that I would have to miss the rest of the season due to the recovery process. Or, I could do a couple weeks of physical therapy and continue to play and then have surgery when the season ended.”

“I chose to wait to have surgery, which was the right decision for me because I was able to play in seven more games and finish my high school football experience on a high note.”

Sean’s surgery was scheduled the same day as Alex’s second shoulder surgery. “In fact,” noted Sean, “I went in as Alex was finishing up and two hours later we both went home.”

He added that the recovery went well. “I felt like I was always ahead of or right on track with where I was supposed to be. And now I’m playing basketball and doing a fair amount of weightlifting—bench presses, shoulder presses, a lot of stuff that heavily involves the labrum, and the shoulder feels great.”

Looking ahead

After their surgery and rehabilitation experiences, both Alex and Sean, now college sophomores, are pursuing careers in physical therapy. And they have some advice for anyone who’s facing the same kind of injuries they had. “You’ll be in good hands with Dr. Rudzki,” said Alex. “He made us comfortable the whole time he treated us and gave us confidence that we would be 100% healthier after the procedures.”

Sean added, “He also made our parents feel at ease and made sure they understood everything that he was going to do. He was always straightforward with what was happening. He was completely honest in letting us know the severity of our injuries, but was always reassuring as well.”

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