January 31, 2023

Olympic Hopeful Returns to Climbing After Successful Shoulder Surgery

Patient Stories | Shoulder | Sports Injury

Some injuries happen gradually – a series of events, building on each other that lead to much bigger problems later. This was the story of Piper Kelly, a globally ranked speed climber for Team USA who had experienced multiple subluxations — or partial dislocations — in her shoulder.

The first one happened during training two weeks before a competition in Switzerland. “It just popped out a little bit and went right back in on its own. I didn’t have to go to the hospital or anything, but that was sort of the first injury,” Piper explained. She spent the next few days before the competition going to multiple doctors, who did not think anything was torn, which prompted her to continue with the competition. It was not until the end of the first round – with two more subluxations – that she pulled out of the competition.

“Over the course of the next year, I think I had 13 shoulder dislocations,” Piper confirmed. “I forget what the exact percentages are, but once you dislocate, you’re like 50% more likely to dislocate a second time and then that just increases every time.”

In 2020, she decided to have the surgery, after the year of subluxations. With all the competitions shutting down due to COVID-19, it seemed a convenient time to have surgery with a yearlong recovery process. Piper was recommended to OrthoIndy by the parent of a teammate and had the surgery in July 2020.

“I was told it was a year-long recovery. I’d been training for the 2024 Olympics, so I was really close to the time to have the surgery and still return it in time to train for that. I mean, I started climbing when I was super young and that was kind of my whole identity, so it was also scary to think about having that taken away. I didn’t really know what else I was going to do if I didn’t rock climb.”

Dr. Troy Roberson, a sports medicine surgeon at OrthoIndy, performed the surgery. “The trick for a situation like Piper’s is to understand that part of what has allowed her to pursue and achieve her goals at the highest level is the positions she has been able to put her shoulder. Unfortunately, that can cross a line and turn in to problems. The goal in that case is to restore stability to reestablish trust in the shoulder – but not restrict motion so much that she can’t perform at the level she is accustomed to. It’s a delicate balance.”

After a successful shoulder surgery with Dr. Roberson, and with the collaboration of her physical therapy team at Beyond Exercise, Piper began clawing her way back to pre-injury form. “The surgery happened in the middle of COVID. School was closed. The gym was closed. So I was home in Indianapolis. and got the surgery done at OrthoIndy,” she said. “When schools opened back up, I was able to come back to my conditioning team, Beyond Exercise in Cincinnati. They have been super helpful.”

Jeff Mestrich, an OrthoIndy physical therapist who worked briefly with Kelly after surgery before she returned to Cincinnati noted, “Piper’s rehab was a true team approach. It required communication between the surgeon, me, and coordinating her rehab at a different location when she returned to school. In order to return, Piper needed an extensive, quality surgery followed by focused rehabilitation with the goal of giving her a shoulder that was better than prior to surgery.”

Her last appointment with OrthoIndy came 6 months after the surgery, and her range of motion on her shoulder was already back to functional mobility. “I was happy with that, and I was happy with the therapy and the doctors and everything. The tricky transition was going from everyday motions to climbing slowly to speed climbing at an elite level,” she recalled.

“It’s weird to have your range of motion reduced, but that’s what the surgery was for – to stop my shoulder going so far it would dislocate. If I got back to where I was, that would not be a good thing,” she joked. “But I honestly don’t notice it interfering with my competitions. Speed climbing is always on exactly the same wall, so I’m doing the exact same 15 moves every single time. So with that I know what I need to train for and what strength I need to have, what range of motion I need to have. ”

Piper is now back to competing at her pre-surgery level again, winning the very first competition she went back to in October 2021. She requalified for the US Olympic Team, putting the World Cup stage and 2024 in Paris back on the map for her. And if anyone needed more proof that she was fully recovered, she set a PR to make the last slot to represent Team USA at the 2024 games this summer.

“It’s just been great to do what I love again. It felt so good to be back and then the win was just the cherry on top. I was really pleased with how easy it was to get back that mental part of being in the zone, finding the flow and just have a competition go well.”

Oui, Piper.

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Related Posts

More from OrthoIndy

Shoulder Injuries

Spring is just around the corner, which means it’s time for baseball and softball players to start conditioning for the season. As athletes get in shape its common that injuries will occur.

Get stories and News in your inbox

Subscribe to our weekly articles