Helping Athletes Return to Form

Physical therapists at Shiley Sports and Fitness Center help athletes and weekend warriors get back in shape

A surf athlete rides a wave to the San Diego shoreline.

Last January, 19-year-old Brett Korporaal began suffering from severe pain in his right shoulder. A shortstop at San Jose City College, Korporaal was unable to perform any type of throwing or hitting activities and had to stop playing baseball altogether.

The pain became so overwhelming that he went to Scripps Clinic’s Sports Medicine Center, where he was diagnosed with a torn labrum and scheduled for surgery. Less than two months later, Korporaal was referred to the Shiley Sports and Fitness Center to undergo physical therapy.

“Shiley is home to 16 physical therapists (PTs) who provide outpatient services to patients that have suffered both sports-related and non-sports related injuries,” says Alan Ferrarelli, the center’s manager of rehab therapies.

“About 90 percent of the patients our PTs work with are referred to us by physicians at the Clinic and many of those patients have suffered an injury while playing sports. Sports-injury patients range from the weekend warrior who goes out and competes just a couple times a month to professional athletes from several different sports.”

Korporaal, who has visions of playing for the Padres one day, falls somewhere between the weekend warrior and the professional athlete categories.

His shoulder injury stems from overuse, a common problem for baseball players — especially those who do a lot of hard throwing. As part of his rehab, Korporaal visits Shiley two times a week and works with physical therapist Katie Foster.

“An injury like Brett’s is not all that uncommon,” says Foster, who sees about 13 patients each day. “We work with a lot of athletes and most are recovering from injuries to their shoulders, knees or ankles. But at Shiley, we don’t just work to rehab the injury. Instead, we work all the muscles that may have contributed to the injury.”

In Korporaal’s case, Foster’s evaluation indicated that a lack of core strength in his abdomen may have contributed to a breakdown in his shoulder because his body was overcompensating for the weakness.

Therefore, to help avoid reinjury, she has had Korporaal focus on strengthening his core muscles as well as his shoulder girdle during his rehabilitation.

Unlike most facilities where patients undergo PT, at Shiley it’s very possible for a college athlete like Korporaal, or even a weekend horseshoe player, to receive care right next to a professional or Olympic athlete.

Gail Kuwatani, who has been a PT for more than 15 years and is board certified in orthopedics, cares for many of the high-performance athletes who come to the Shiley Sports and Fitness Center.

“What makes Shiley so special is that we treat everyone the same,” says Kuwatani. “Constantly throwing a 90 mph fastball is tougher on the shoulder than painting, but both individuals have a job to do and we are here to help them get back to 100 percent. Sometimes the overall exercises may differ, but that is a reflection of what the patient is hoping to accomplish.”

Knowing that he receives treatment at the same place as some of his sports heroes makes Korporaal feel more comfortable about coming to the Shiley. Without the assistance of PTs like Foster, he might never recover from his surgery and get back on the field.

“Since I started working with Katie a couple months ago, I have seen rapid improvement in my shoulder,” Korporaal says. “I’m virtually pain-free and I’ve started to build up my core muscles. It’s great to know I’m being treated by the same PT staff that treats pro athletes. Hopefully, one day some of these guys will also be my teammates.”