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For most high school athletes, staying on the field to help your team win is all that matters. Spencer Clayborn, a junior at Mill Valley High School, is no different. So when he noticed his right shoulder popping out of socket in the weight room and on the football field, he told no one.

“It just felt really loose and kept popping out of socket. The weight room probably didn’t help, but I didn’t want that time out of the season,” Spencer shrugged.

He kept his injury quiet throughout the football season while playing strong safety – a position reliant heavily on hitting people hard with your shoulder. It wasn’t until Sports Medicine & Performance Center athletic trainer for Mill Valley, Clint McAlister, witnessed the injury firsthand at the final regular season home game that Spencer finally came to terms with the extent of the damage.

“I saw Spencer shove his dislocated shoulder back into socket on the field after a rough hit. I could tell immediately it wasn’t the first time,” McAlister said.

McAlister insisted Spencer be taken out of the next play and evaluated on the sidelines. He determined Spencer had full range of motion, full strength and function, but suspected there might be something wrong with his labrum – cartilage that lines the shoulder socket – to cause it to keep dislocating.

Spencer was allowed to finish out the final game with a shoulder spica for support to prevent additional injury, but McAlister pushed for further evaluation. He knew ongoing dislocations of the shoulder can create a risk of neurological complications and permanent damage. An appointment was immediately scheduled for Spencer to see pediatric specialist Randall Goldstein, DO.

Dr. Goldstein evaluated Spencer the following week and ordered an MRI that showed a tear in the labrum of his right shoulder, as McAlister suspected. Spencer was given a choice: try to rehab his injured shoulder with physical therapy alone, or have surgery and stick to a strict recovery regimen for the summer.

“I didn’t want that time off, but I knew surgery was my best option,” Spencer said.

Dr. Goldstein referred Spencer to orthopedic surgeon Joshua Nelson, MD, who scheduled the surgery for December – and McAlister went to work preparing Spencer for the surgery and recovery.

“It’s important to have a strong base before this type of surgery. It helps for a swift recovery,” McAlister said. And he was right.

After working with McAlister on strength training for his shoulder, Spencer underwent arthroscopic surgery with Dr. Nelson. Arthroscopic is a minimally invasive type of surgery that inserts a tiny camera through three small incisions to repair the labrum. After a few weeks resting his shoulder in a sling, Spencer went through physical therapy twice a week with Martin Dolphino, physical therapy manager at The University of Kansas Hospital’s KU MedWest location. He also kept up his strengthening exercises with McAlister every day at school.

“It was important that we made sure he didn’t push himself too hard, too fast, so the shoulder could properly heal first,” said McAlister. “But he worked hard to get his strength back quickly, and ultimately it was one of the smoothest transitions I’ve ever seen.”

“Everyone at the hospital made this process easy for me. It was all very convenient,” Spencer said.

Thanks to Spencer’s hard work and the comprehensive care provided by the Sports Medicine & Performance Center’s medical experts, Spencer is back where he wants to be: throwing discus on his track team, setting new personal bests in the weight room and preparing for another full football season. All under the watchful eye of McAlister.

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