Bruce Schuetz’s left shoulder was seriously out of tune, and he could tell. The Brookfield resident, 55, certainly knew the importance of all the parts harmonizing together. A relationship manager in financial technology by day, Bruce fronts two German-Austrian party bands on weekend nights, playing bass guitar and singing the lead.

“I’ve been playing in bands for about 30 years, so I think years of lifting equipment and strapping the guitar over my shoulder kind of wore it out,” he said. Bruce believes shoulder dislocations while waterskiing as a teenager also may have contributed, as did years of working on the local road crew for concerts at large Milwaukee-area concert venues. “Lifting amplifiers and lighting over your head takes a toll,” he said.

Bruce’s shoulder pain intensified over time. “It was nonstop throbbing, and when the weather would change, it worsened,” he said. “There were certain things I limited — simple things like sweeping out the garage or raking. Just grabbing the steering wheel in the car would cause pain.”

Joint Replacement Surgery

When over-the-counter remedies failed to help, Bruce’s primary care physician referred him to Scott Hicks, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Orthopaedic, Sports and Spine Center in Menomonee Falls.

“Bruce presented with shoulder pain, and a further workup with X-rays revealed he had severe degenerative arthritis of the shoulder joint,” Dr. Hicks said.

Bruce’s worsening pain was understandable, given the disease process at work. “Over time the cartilage, which acts like a covering on the end of the bone, can wear down,” Dr. Hicks said. “Once it wears off, the bone’s nerve fibers become exposed and the area gets increasingly painful.”

Initially, Dr. Hicks recommended a conservative approach. “We tried a cortisone shot, but it didn’t provide relief,” Bruce said. “That’s when I called and said, ‘Doc, we have to do something about this.’”

That “something” was full joint replacement surgery on his shoulder, which Dr. Hicks performed in November 2016 at Community Memorial Hospital Joint and Spine Center.

“The new joint is basically a ball and socket,” Dr. Hicks said. “We replace the humeral head and the surface of the socket.” The humeral head is the uppermost part of the humerus, or upper arm bone.

Bruce benefited from recent advancements in joint design. “From the insertion side of things, it’s a much shorter stem that is able to grip the bone better,” Dr. Hicks said. “And one of the biggest innovations over the last several years is that the plastic that goes over the socket is a polyethylene covering that wears less and lasts longer.”

A Shoulder in Recovery

After one night in the hospital, Bruce returned home with his arm in a sling to limit movement and protect the rotator cuff while it healed. He also used a continuous passive motion chair to increase his range of motion gradually. Five weeks post-surgery, Bruce began physical therapy at the Orthopaedic, Sports and Spine Center.

“At first, we work mostly on restoring range of motion and managing pain,” said Leslie Bombaci, DPT, physical therapist. “Around eight weeks after surgery, we begin to work on strengthening the shoulder, integrating exercises that help patients return to daily activities like house and yard work and leisure activities. We tailor care to patients based on their pain levels, goals and the activities they enjoy. Physical therapists are like a coach for patients, helping them resume their lives.”

Bruce was clear about his goals. “He wanted to get back to playing the guitar,” Leslie said. “He was very motivated to return to playing on weekends.”

Less than two months after surgery, Bruce strapped on his guitar for his first gig back, both singing and playing. “Before the surgery, reaching out to the neck of the guitar was a painful process,” he said. “Now I pretty much play without pain.”

If you visit any of the area’s German venues, you might catch Bruce and his two-piece band, Alpine Blast, playing traditional German, Austrian and Slovenian music, or his six-piece band, Austrian Express, which mixes in country and rock. He can now lean into the songs with a renewed shoulder that is once again in harmony.

“I feel really good about where I’m at, with at least as much, if not more, mobility than prior to surgery,” Bruce said. “These folks do an awesome job, providing as pleasant an experience with surgery as you can get.”

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