Reaching for Independence

“At the wrong place at the wrong time,” is the way Vicki Irwin describes the mishap that severed a nerve in her neck.

“I ran in to the mall to buy a birthday gift, though I knew about the construction there,” recalls Vicki, a legal aid in Jacksonville. “A plate glass window broke and landed on me; I was airlifted to the hospital. The accessory nerve on the left side of my neck was severed. I was treated for nerve damage and went back to work, but the pain in my neck and shoulder continued intermittently, then worsened.”

Vicki sought medical advice from orthopedic specialists in her area and researched online information sources. She discovered an orthopedic surgeon in New York, Dr. Louis Bigliani, who performs a highly specialized surgery for injuries similar to hers. After reviewing Vicki’s medical records, the shoulder injury specialist deemed Vicki a candidate for the surgery. She flew to New York for the procedure, hoping it would relieve her pain and help her regain the use of her left arm.

The surgery involved a transfer of rhomboid and scapula muscles in the left shoulder, re-positioning them to work for the muscles affected by the damaged accessory nerve. Vicki spent four days in the hospital and returned home wearing a sling to keep her left arm immobilized for six weeks.

Passive motion physical therapy was initiated in the hospital, and Vicki was instructed to continue with physical therapy in Jacksonville. A local orthopedic nurse recommended Ron Berger, PT, a respected physical therapist at ATLAS Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine.

Steady Progress

“I could not bathe or dress myself; I felt helpless and discouraged,” Vicki confides. “Simply reaching my arm back to slip on a blouse or jacket was impossible for me. The first time I met Ron Berger, I felt reassured. He is compassionate and thorough. I knew he would help me regain my normal life.”

Explains Ron, “Passive range of motion therapy using specific techniques allows us to work the muscles in the injured area without compromising optimal post surgical recovery. Scar massage techniques ease pain and stiffness and can reduce problematic adhesions in the tissues below the scars.

“Muscles in Vicki’s left shoulder, neck and upper back needed to be re-educated,” clarifies Ron. “This is accomplished over time with gentle, repetitive motions that train the muscles what they are supposed to do. Initially, it can be uncomfortable because the muscles have shortened. That’s why it is important to combine massage techniques with range of motion, flexibility and strengthening therapies.”

Vicki began strengthening with light resistance exercises using a cane, therabands and, eventually, weights. Slow, steady progress was key.

“Sometimes I think I’ll never make it,” shares Vicki, “but Ron supports my every effort. He makes each session something I look forward to. My doctors are impressed with the range of motion we have regained, and it’s wonderful for me to be able to dress, style my hair, drive and be independent again.

“Facing long term physical therapy with my surgeon 1500 miles away, I needed Ron’s encouraging attitude, precise skill, and most important, that bond of complete trust I feel when I am in his care. No matter how much something hurts, I know after I see Ron I’m going to feel better. That’s a great motivator!”

Make a note…
The professional staff at ATLAS Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, Inc. will be happy to answer your questions regarding this article or related topics. The office is located in the Mandarin South Business Center, at 12421 San Jose Blvd., Bldg. 2, Suite B, in Jacksonville. For more information, please call (904) 292-0195.

Ronald C. Berger, PT, ATC, is a licensed physical therapist and certified athletic trainer. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy from Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, after earning a degree in Physical Education with an emphasis in athletic training at Samford University, Birmingham.