PITTSBURGH, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Justin Arner felt the searing pain and anguish when he dislocated his shoulder during a playoff game as a senior on the Clarion Area High School football team in 2004.
The injury was severe enough to require surgery.
Arner was lucky enough to draw Dr. James Bradley as his surgeon.
(Pictured above: Clarion Area High School graduate Justin Arner, right, with Pittsburgh Steelers head physician James Bradley.)
Back then, Bradley had served as the head physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers for nearly two decades, and Arner became enamored with Bradley and the stories of his practice.
Little did Arner know at the time that would be the launch point of his own career in the medical field and with the Steelers.
“Through our visits, I just thought it was really interesting,” Arner said. “During rehab, I remember going down with my dad for my last visit a couple of months after surgery and said, ‘I wonder if he ever lets people observe him?’ I asked him and he said, ‘Yeah, all the time.’”
Arner was hooked on orthopedics. The allure of getting people — athletes and laborers alike — back to work and daily activities appealed to him.
While in high school at Clarion, Arner spent most of his summers and holiday breaks working on construction crews. He felt his own aches and pains from the back-breaking work. He became intimately aware of how it could break down the human body over time.
That was also one of the reasons why he wanted to become a surgeon and not go into another profession where he’d simply sit behind a desk.
He was a doer.
“I thought about doing law school because of my dad and I did the mock trial kind of stuff in high school,” Arner said. “And I was like, ‘Man, I can’t sit here and read for hours and not do anything with my hands. I paved roads. I helped build houses growing up. I like that more physical kind of job.”
He may not be using his hands to repair roads, but he’s using them to repair injuries.
“I like getting people back to moving and back to the activities that they enjoy,” Arner said. “Whether it’s throwing a baseball with their grandkid or playing a professional sport.”
Arner is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and partner at Burke and Bradley Orthopedics at UPMC St. Margaret Hospital in Pittsburgh. He specializes in operative and non-operative treatment of shoulder, knee, and hip injuries.
After Clarion, he moved on to Shepherd University in West Virginia where he played football for the Rams, who were nationally ranked at the time. He then attended the West Virginia University School of Medicine and completed his orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
He first got involved in sports medicine shortly after when he did a fellowship at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado.
That eventually led him full circle, back to Bradley.
For the past two years, Arner has assisted Bradley with the Steelers. He’s also a team physician for the United States Ski and Snowboard team.
“It’s been great,” Arner said. “I mean, Dr. Bradley has done this for 31 years now. I think he told me when we were down in the training room the other day that he’s going to have his 700th game this year. That’s crazy. He has a lot of good stories.
“He’s a really good mentor,” Arner added. “He’s such a smart guy. He’s from Johnstown, so we have kind of a similar blue-collar upbringing. He played football at Penn State and was a captain there, so he’s always been helpful. It’s great to learn from him with the Steelers and the unique scenarios with their injuries.”
Arner, who lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, Clara, and their young son, Reid, said it also helps him with his patients who aren’t professional athletes.
He understands their injuries threaten their livelihood, too.
“I take care of knees, hips, shoulders, all kinds of stuff,” Arner said. “I take care of the whole person. You take care of a grandmother and then you see their kid, who unfortunately had a torn ACL. You get to know their family. That goes back to growing up in a small town and knowing people and getting to know people.
“I know what it’s like to work a construction job for 14 hours. It’s a hard life,” Arner added. “Can that person really go to physical therapy three times a week? That’s going to be pretty hard when they’re working so hard. Or a plumber who has a torn rotator cuff. It’s a big deal to take off for six months with the surgery. You have to know what’s best for your patient.”
Arner plans on continuing his work with the Bradley and the Steelers.
He’s also doing clinical research on new ways to treat shoulder injuries.
Arner realizes how fortunate he was to cross paths with Bradley all those years ago.
“I’ve certainly been lucky,” Arner said. “It was a long road to get here and certainly would not have had any of those opportunities without my family, parents, and wife. Same thing with my coaches and teachers growing up in Clarion. All those people had such an impact. I think a lot of people don’t realize that and what a great area it is.”