Private donor funds USC physical therapy research on rotator cuff injuries



Photo: Robert Radifera

The pain was excruciating, says Barbara Fried of the time she tore her rotator cuff. It was 2000, and she had been vacationing with her husband Mark in the Galápagos Islands. While the two were sailing through particularly rough seas, a banister slammed into Barbara’s shoulder, leaving her bent over double in agony.

The then 64-year-old woman went through two surgeries to improve her shoulder’s range of motion after the complete tear to her rotator cuff.  

Both procedures failed—a common occurrence in older adults in which an estimated 45 percent of rotator cuff surgeries fail, according to a 2013 Orthopaedic Practice article written by Dr. David Luedeka and Dr. Lori Michener, a newly appointed professor of clinical physical therapy at the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. 

“Part of the problem, I think, with the first and second operation was the concept of physical therapy is just totally wrong,” Fried said of the post-surgery physical therapy regimen. “They want you to start using your shoulder as soon as possible and have a ‘no pain, no gain’ kind of attitude."

Conversely, Luedeka’s and Michener’s approach to physical therapy treatment for patients with injured rotator cuffs involves having the patient go through a phased 18-month strengthening program where they use movements that improve joint stability and decrease stress on the rotator cuff. Typical movements include push-ups and pull-ups, where the hand is in a fixed position.

These closed-chain exercises may protect the shoulder joint and the rotator cuff while allowing for the gradual strengthening of the remaining vulnerable cuff tissue, according to the Orthopaedic Practice article.

“Before, I couldn’t lift an arm, I couldn’t do anything,” said Fried who began seeing Luedeka at age 74.

“But this program brought me back to life. I’m now playing QuickStart tennis, which is on a smaller court with a shorter racket and ball that isn’t as hard because my shoulder’s not ready to take a full blow yet.”

Her physical therapy success story led Fried to donate $463,066 to fund a two-year grant for Michener’s continued research on a pilot study for implementing the closed-chain stabilization approach for treating rotator cuff tears. The research will take place in the Clinical Biomechanics Orthopedics and Sports Outcome Research lab, of which Michener is the director.

“I’d like other people to have the benefit of this kind of treatment because I think Lori and David can demonstrate that this is the way physical therapy should be, not just checking off boxes in a book,” Fried said. 

Fried is the president of Fried Companies Inc., a real estate company that develops residential communities, office complexes and shopping centers in Virginia.

She and her husband Mark, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 78, are longtime benefactors, having given money and time to such issues as making education, housing and dentistry more accessible and affordable as well as issues affecting individuals with developmental disabilities. 

The couple was among the original founders of Innisfree Village, a voluntary life-sharing community for adults with intellectual disabilities, in Crozet, Va. Their 53-year-old son Jonathan is developmentally disabled and lives in Innisfree Village. He will compete in the Special Olympics Summer Games coming to the USC and UCLA campuses later this month.

The pair also established the Charlottesville-Albemarle Riding Therapy (CART), a therapeutic horseback-riding program for disabled adults and children.

“From the time I was a child, my mother instilled in me the idea that whatever little you had, you shared,” said Fried, who is the first in her family to graduate from college. “I think the trend today is not just to give generally but to pinpoint areas where you think you can make a difference, and I think this study can make a big difference,” she said.