Shoulder Surgery Helps 59- Year-Old Get Back To CrossFit

A lifelong athlete, Dan DeCarlo, 59, of North Aurora, was no stranger to aches and pains. In 6th grade, he started weight training and then went on to excel in multiple sports, including football, wrestling, baseball, and hockey. Over time, his shoulder hurt but he continued doing the activities he loved. As a professional electrician, DeCarlo also felt discomfort in his shoulder when he did the reaching, lifting, and overhead movements that went along with his job.

Eventually, he sought a doctor’s advice and was diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear. However, DeCarlo opted to live with the condition and continued to enjoy his fitness routine which included regular workouts at a local health club. 

CrossFit challenge

One day he was challenged by his daughter Danielle who invited him to attend her CrossFit gym.  “I was sore all over for days,” DeCarlo explains. “But I discovered that the challenge of CrossFit was the missing element for me personally. I wasn’t worried about my shoulder.”

He also loved being a part of the CrossFit community and working out with his daughter, a physical therapist at Doctors of Physical Therapy, whenever they could align their schedules. He enjoyed accomplishing new things like box jumps and the Olympic lifts called a snatch and a clean and jerk.  “I just felt better doing new things,” he says.

His cardio capacity improved and his cholesterol dropped 35 points. His body was responding well – until it didn’t.

Injury strikes

“One day while doing a clean at my CrossFit gym, I felt a ‘pop’ in my shoulder,” DeCarlo says. “I could only move my arm backward for some reason.”

“His form wasn’t the greatest and his shoulder weakness didn’t help,” Danielle explains. “That probably contributed.”

Danielle recommended a doctor she knew from her professional network who had also performed successful surgery on her brother: Dr. Grant Garrigues, a shoulder specialist from Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR). During DeCarlo’s initial visit with Dr. Garrigues at the MOR office in Oak Brook, he underwent an MRI right away. Dr. Garrigues reviewed it and diagnosed DeCarlo with a massive, traumatic rotator cuff tear involving two entire tendons. He recommended surgery in order for DeCarlo to regain mobility in his arm.

“Small rotator cuff tears frequently just require physical therapy, but with a massive tear in such an active patient, there was no question that surgery was needed to get Mr. DeCarlo back to his active lifestyle,” Dr. Garrigues explains.

Road to recovery

DeCarlo’s rotator cuff repair surgery at the Rush Oak Brook Outpatient Center was a success and he went home the same day. “We did a double row repair for added strength and were able to repair the tendon anatomically,” said Garrigues.

Once home, Danielle supervised her dad’s rehabilitation at her clinic in Naperville.  She and Dr. Garrigues communicated frequently for a team approach.  After he was out of a sling, DeCarlo’s treatment plan included rehab three days a week at the clinic and exercises every day at home. “He was the perfect patient because he was so motivated,” she says.

Under the watchful eye of his daughter, ten days after surgery, DeCarlo was cycling at the gym. Three weeks after surgery, he was lifting weights on his good side. After a few months, he rejoined CrossFit classes as he could. Danielle joined him and instructed him on what was safe to do.

“I knew I was going to listen to exactly what she recommended because she is such a pro,” DeCarlo says. “She encouraged me when I was feeling down. I was so lucky to have her there to support me.”

“My dad and I have grown very close through this unexpected process,” Danielle says. “It’s also helped me professionally because I saw my dad in every stage of recovery which has helped me relate better to my patients.”

The Murph

Today, nine months post-surgery, DeCarlo is back to 100% in his CrossFit workouts. Remarkably, he recently performed one of the most challenging events in CrossFit called a ‘Murph.’ In this event, participants complete a one-mile run followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 air squats, finishing with a one-mile run. DeCarlo participated by doing a modified Murph which included a 2K bike ride, 100 horizontal ring rows, 140 24-inch/60 30-inch box push-ups, and 300 air squats, finishing with another 2K bike. 

“I’m exceptionally proud of my dad,” Danielle explains. “He has such a go-getter attitude and never gives up.”

Dr. Garrigues credits the family’s team approach to DeCarlo’s successful recovery. “It takes more than just the surgeon to have a good result—it takes a motivated patient and a skilled therapist,” Dr. Garrigues says. “It was such a pleasure working with the DeCarlos.”

To schedule an appointment to discuss your shoulder pain or condition with Dr. Grant Garrigues, call 877.MD.BONES or click here.