Hello everyone – As you may know by now, I’ve been out of the game for just about 9 months due to a shoulder injury. What started as a minor nagging pain progressed into a partial tear in my rotator cuff, which sounds somewhat innocuous, but in reality, it became impossible to generate any power above my shoulder, so serving was out of the picture. As I look back on the timeline of my pain progression, I can easily say that in hindsight I should have taken time off to get it checked sooner. However, timing wasn’t on my side; it was dead in the middle of the season and I underestimated the severity of the injury. My goal for last summer was to be in top form for US Open, but when I was playing a WTA event in Bucharest just before, my injury peaked. After my match, simply lifting my arm above my head caused such intense pain like I’d never felt before.
I returned to the US and immediately went in for an MRI, which came back inconclusive, as these scans sometimes do. The diagnosis was an impingement and some inflammation in my rotator cuff and bicep tendon, caused by overuse and naturally hyper-mobile joints. After a few days the pain subsided and my range of motion seemed to be back to a decent (but not ideal) level, so competing in 10 days was not totally out of the question. I received a cortisone shot to manage inflammation, but even with cortisone masking a lot of the pain, I was unable to serve. I withdrew from the US Open and went back to the doctor (and a second doctor) for more scans. This time, an X-Ray and a contrast MRI showed a severe partial rotator cuff tear, which matched the level of pain and lack of mobility I was experiencing.
The 3 doctors I visited all had slightly different projections of what my recovery and next steps should be. My first choice, and the more widely agreed upon option, was to start rehabbing daily to mitigate inflammation while maintaining strength. Surgery was thrown around as an option, but one that I wanted to save as a last resort only after all other attempts at healing failed. The “risk” associated with rotator cuff surgery was permanently losing a percentage of my shoulder’s range of motion; obviously something I wanted to avoid if possible.
After rehabbing for 3+ months with very little improvement, I needed a new course of action. I went back to my doctor(s), and one suggested a round of PRP (Platelet-rich plasma) shots to promote tissue healing as a last resort before surgery. I was told that any improvement in pain or range of motion would be a positive sign, but up until now I had not experienced much improvement. I decided to give PRP a try, the catch being it would take approximately 2-3 months for my body to feel/benefit from the effects. The shots were extremely painful, partially because my doctor opted to avoid any lidocaine numbing agents so that he could have the most accurate and exact placement. (Thanks, I guess, but the pain was REAL.)
I took a protected ranking (it was now 6+ months) and in those 3 months I continued physical therapy daily. Each week I attempted to hit groundstrokes just to maintain some rhythm, but I was still having pain.
Now, 9 months since competition, while still not 100%, I can say I finally see some progress! I’m now able to hit consistently (every other day) without pain – any more than that and my shoulder gets sore – but I am optimistic that this is a step in the right direction. Seeing any progress makes me feel hopeful after months of being stagnant. My next steps are unclear; with quarantine still in effect I’ve had to hold off on going for my follow up scan and MRI post PRP shots. I will continue to keep this blog updated – but for now, I’m happy to be back on court consistently, and looking forward to attempting serves sometime this week.