Ed Cirnigliaro, a fitness trainer and lifelong athlete, had always been strong, healthy and remarkably injury-free.
But two years ago, the Huntington Beach resident’s life took a different turn when he tore his labrum—the thin matrix of collagen that helps hold the shoulder in place.
Ed doesn’t know exactly when it happened, but he remembers feeling a strain in his left shoulder during a routine weightlifting session. When the discomfort didn’t improve after weeks of rest, the 38-year-old trainer underwent an MRI. The test showed that almost the entire labrum—which normally surrounds the shoulder socket—had separated from the bone.
A Family Affair
Ed’s injury may have been attributable to heredity. Some people, he says, have a genetic predisposition to shoulder instability. Ed notes that two of his three brothers—all of them serious ballplayers—have also had shoulder operations. Lifting weights may have been the final blow for Ed’s shoulder, but years of throwing a baseball probably caused much of the damage. An avid ballplayer since the age of 6, Ed sustained the same injury that plagues some major league pitchers.
“Depending on the severity, labral tears may be one of the most feared shoulder injuries in sports,” explains John Fenger, manager of outpatient rehabilitation services at Orange Coast Memorial. “Even after repair, many athletes may never perform at their former level.” Ed’s tear was especially serious, requiring three different repairs and complete immobilization of his left arm. Yet, just three weeks after surgery, he began rehabilitation therapy at Orange Coast Memorial.
The Road to Recovery
“At first, my left arm felt as if it were hanging by a piece of dental floss,” Ed says. “Whenever I would go over a speed bump, I was afraid it would fall off. It was a scary feeling and I didn’t want to move the arm at all. But the therapists knew just how far to push me.”
“We had to be extremely careful with Ed’s shoulder,” Fenger says. “It takes some time for the labrum to completely reattach to the rim of the bone. For the first few months, we mobilized his arm to help improve his flexibility and range of motion—the most essential part of recovery. Eventually, he progressed to using an upper body ergometer— essentially a bicycle for the arms.”
“I especially remember being asked to lift my left arm from a prone position, and I couldn’t do it,” recalls Ed. “I had always been very fit, pressing 130 pounds in each hand. Now I couldn’t even lift my body weight. But the therapists kept assuring me that with this type of injury, you regain flexibility first and strength last. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Playing it Safe
Today, Ed has almost full range of motion in his shoulder and has resumed weight training. “My therapists performed a miracle,” he says. “I can’t tell you how fantastic these people are. Not only did they give me back my active lifestyle, but they also showed me how to train safely so I don’t get injured again.”
Ed is one of thousands of patients who have benefited from Orange Coast Memorial’s outpatient rehabilitation program. Now, rehabilitation services has relocated to a larger space in the new Patient Care Pavilion, which means that even more people can be helped.
Fenger points to the large, airy gym and state-of-the-art equipment. “We have the latest rehabilitation equipment, comprehensive physical and speech therapies and a staff of incredibly dedicated professionals,” he says. “Our goal has always been to help people with life-altering injuries and impairments attain the highest level of function and independence possible. Our new facility will help us do that.”