Traverse City Record-Eagle


September 2, 2010

Doctor invents device after suffering his own pain

TRAVERSE CITY — A local family medicine doctor is marketing a solution to stop shoulder pain.

Dr. Michael Carroll, who in 2005 co-founded Creekside Clinic in Traverse City, suffered from a common complaint — shoulder pain caused by problems with his rotator cuff. The doctor had trouble sleeping because of the pain. One sleepless night about six years ago, he took his arm, held it down and noticed it felt better.

"It was like my 'Eureka' moment," Carroll said.

He fashioned a makeshift traction device out of bandages to keep his shoulder and arm in the position. Within days of using the system, Carroll said his pain practically vanished.

He decided to develop a brace and test it on some of his patients with shoulder pain. He made up more prototypes, commissioned research using patients of other area physicians and presented the positive findings to the American College of Sports Medicine in 2006. Carroll also worked with local physical therapists to create an exercise aid.

His trademarked ROTATORELIEVER system now has a patent pending and an infomercial using area residents' testimonials. The commercial started airing in local markets several weeks ago. Carroll also launched the website as another way to sell directly to the public.

The brace is designed to offer "gentle traction" to keep from pinching off blood flow to the rotator cuff area while laying down. An accompanying short exercise routine features "dynamic stabilization" movement with weighted balls.

Gerald Hekker, of Kingsley, was one of Carroll's patients with shoulder problems. He was in pain "all the time, and, especially, at night." When he had suffered shoulder pain before, he had cortisone shots, but that treatment only made him feel a little better.

"I tried doing exercises on my arm and moving different ways and nothing seemed to work. I put up with the pain for a long time before I finally said, 'I'll tell my doctor,'" Hekker said.

He discovered his doctor had designed the simple method to treat shoulder pain like his. Last fall, Hekker started using one of Carroll's prototype braces and also tried a later version of the product.

"After about two to three weeks, I would say I had about 75 percent relief," Hekker said. "After four to six weeks my pain was virtually gone."

He continues to do the exercise component but only wears the brace occasionally. If that sounds like a glowing testimonial, it is. Hekker was among the local patients interviewed for the product's infomercial, which also features shots of local places.

Shoulder pain affects many people, Carroll said.

"It is so common — all walks of life. It's part of the human condition," he said. "It's not just for laborers, not just for athletes."

Carroll, who is married with three children, continues to practice family medicine full time. He has a special interest in sports medicine and helped start the lacrosse league in Traverse City. He and an investor financed the project after brace-making companies rejected it on the grounds they couldn't charge enough for the uncomplicated treatment system.

But the idea's simplicity is an advantage, Carroll said. Patients find it appealing to treat the pain without surgery, drugs or physical therapy. That the idea sprung from a family practice doctor in a small town, instead of a research university, made it compelling to the sports medicine community, Carroll said.

He's both nervous and excited to market the system, which sells for $129.95 with a 30-day money back guarantee.

"I didn't want to be some guy talking about his idea and not prove it," Carroll said, of the successful research. "Getting product to market has taken me 6&½ years, and I feel relieved."

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