Carolyn’s lingering arm pain vanishes after she gets a second opinion from a wrist and elbow specialist

After a rollerblading accident fractured her right elbow in June 2020, Carolyn Burger, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, struggled to get back to her active lifestyle, even after her elbow had healed.

She saw a local orthopedics specialist who recommended rest and occupational therapy, but long after the fracture healed, she felt pain in her arm. And that pain kept getting worse, leaving Carolyn unable to perform even the simplest tasks with her right hand.

She asked for a second opinion from University of Iowa Health Care orthopedic surgeon Joseph Buckwalter V, MD, a specialist in hand, wrist, and elbow care. Buckwalter quickly determined that scar tissue in Carolyn’s healed elbow was likely causing that worsening pain lower in her arm.

Buckwalter operated on Carolyn’s elbow three weeks later. The pain disappeared immediately.

Carolyn Burger
Carolyn has full function in her right hand again after months of increasing pain.

“I was astonished,” Carolyn says. “Dr. Buckwalter and his team pulled off in three weeks what my previous care team couldn’t do in six months.”

Pain moves from the elbow to the wrist

Hours after her rollerblading accident, Carolyn’s elbow hurt so much she couldn’t sleep. X-rays confirmed a fracture, and she began occupational therapy a few weeks later.

“The fracture healed, and my elbow became less painful,” Carolyn says. “But my wrist started to hurt, and I couldn’t turn my hand into a palm-up position. I couldn’t do anything right-handed that involved twisting, including writing, turning doorknobs, shampooing my hair, using a fork, or texting on my phone.”

Carolyn continued occupational therapy throughout the summer, but her forearm and wrist pain worsened, and she couldn’t fully bend or straighten her elbow.

I was astonished. Dr. Buckwalter and his team pulled off in three weeks what my previous care team couldn’t do in six months.

— Carolyn Burger

“I was missing a lot of work to go to occupational therapy and watching my husband and kids go out to have fun together,” Carolyn says. “It was depressing.”

She went to see another local orthopedics specialist to find out if she had other options.

“He told me there wasn’t anything else I could try,” Carolyn says. “He said I might get better in six to 12 months, but if not, I would develop a workaround. Which I didn’t find helpful at all.”

A second opinion and a new diagnosis

That’s when Carolyn decided to call UI Hospitals & Clinics.

“My first interaction was with a scheduler, and he was an incredible go-getter,” Carolyn says. “He asked me all kinds of questions to figure out which specialist would be the best fit for me, and he gathered my X-rays and clinical notes from the care team in Cedar Rapids. The service he provided was exceptional. He made a great first impression.”

Carolyn saw Buckwalter a few weeks later, on December 10. He had already reviewed her X-rays and treatment history and was confident that surgery to remove the scar tissue in Carolyn’s elbow could relieve the wrist and forearm pain.

‘Almost like the injury never happened’

Carolyn only had to wait three weeks to get the surgery she needed. Her life got back to normal that same day.

“I was shocked, and so was my husband,” Carolyn says. “When I went home that night, I was able to unload the dishwasher, turn doorknobs, use a soap dispenser, and text using my right hand. I could not believe it. It was almost like the injury never happened.”

Now Carolyn is back to doing all the activities she enjoyed before her injury, including rollerblading with her son, playing tennis with her daughter, and working in the yard with her husband.

“I am so thankful to Dr. Buckwalter and everyone at UI, who were very kind, genuinely concerned for my well-being, and wanted to help,” she says. “My husband was so impressed with the results that he says we are going to go to UI for all our future medical needs.”

Cedar Rapids, Iowa