Durham Man Overcomes Shoulder Pain from Golfing to Win Club Championship

By Larissa Biggers
November 30, 2022
A man stands on a golf course, smiling, while holding up a trophy

Taylor Donner holds up a trophy after winning his golf club's championship. Photo courtesy of Taylor Donner.

When severe shoulder pain and lack of mobility threatened to end Taylor Donner’s promising new golf career, he sought help at Duke. After shoulder surgery and golf-specific physical therapy, the 36-year-old Durham, NC resident won his club’s golf championship and continues to play pain-free.

Shoulder Pain from Golf and Overhand Sports

Donner has been active -- swimming and playing baseball, hockey, tennis, squash, and soccer as a goalie -- for as long as he can remember. Although his grandmother encouraged him to try golf as a child, he didn’t take the game up until 2018. It was clear that he had a knack for golf, but after years of playing overhand sports, his shoulder began to hurt, which limited his swing. Things got progressively worse. “I was in pain when I hit and woke up every morning feeling really sore,” he said. Still, he played through the pain with the help of steroid injections and physical therapy.

Shoulder Surgery to Relieve Pain, Restore Range of Motion

Then in a 2021 tennis match, Donner hit a high, overhead forehand shot. “I felt a snap and knew it was bad,” he said. He made an appointment with Christopher Klifto, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at Duke Health. “The MRI showed that Taylor had a significant SLAP tear, which could only be repaired with surgery,” said Dr. Klifto. SLAP stands for superior labrum, anterior to posterior, and the injury involves a torn labrum -- the cartilage that lines the inner part of the shoulder joint -- and bicep.

In December 2021, Dr. Klifto performed arthroscopic bicep tenodesis and rotator cuff repair surgery. Because he used minimally invasive techniques, Donner returned home the same day. Never one to sit still, he was eager to begin physical therapy. “Dr. Klifto knew that I wanted to get back out on the course as quickly as possible and he said, ‘I'm going to put you with TJ Moore,’” a physical therapist who specializes in PT for golfers. 

Golf-Specific PT at Duke

Moore explained the difference between traditional PT and the golf-specific program offered at Duke. “Compared to standard PT that may just include shoulder rehab, we incorporate a lot of golf-specific movement like rotational exercises at the trunk and hip mobility. We build those in early because they are critical to the golf game,” he said. 

Under Moore’s guidance, Donner launched into his rehab full force. “I asked TJ to push me as much as he thought was reasonable and safe,” recalled Donner. His dedication paid off. By April of 2022, he was back on the golf course. “By June I won a tournament and placed in two others,” he said.

A Bright Golfing Future

Donner’s care team at Duke is pleased with the results and optimistic about his future. Moore commented, “As long as he continues to work on his mobility and strengthening, he should be able to play at a high level.” Dr. Klifto agreed. “His hard work with TJ made all the difference. That’s why he rebounded so quickly. Now he can play golf and overhand sports without limitations.”

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