Getting Back in the Game After a Sports Injury
When young athletes get injured, they often embark on a challenging journey that can take them off the field for some time. Star student-athlete, Nick Hall, understands this journey all too well, when an ordinary practice at the start of his senior football season at Cohasset High School ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus.
As I was practicing a position that had me cutting quickly from left to right, I felt the infamous ‘pop’ and my knee gave out. When I was down on the ground, I knew instantly the extent of my injury and that surgery would likely be necessary.
An ACL injury most commonly occurs in sports that involve sudden stops, jumping or changes in direction, such as soccer, tennis, and in Nick’s case, football.
The ACL is one of four major ligaments in the knee, a ligament vital to athletes because it provides roughly 90 percent of stability in the knee joint. Nick’s injury occurred in combination with damage to the meniscus, the knee cartilage that cushions the shinbone from the thighbone.
Michael W. Geary, MD, one of South Shore Health’s board-certified, highly-skilled surgeons specializing in sports medicine and orthopedic trauma, performed reparative surgery on Nick’s injury.
“After an MRI confirmed a torn ACL and meniscus, we made a plan to ensure Nick would have the best possible outcome to return to sports,” Geary said
During Nick’s surgery, the torn ACL was replaced with a new ligament (graft) taken from his hamstring tendons at the back of the thigh. As time goes on, a new graft becomes a living ligament in his knee.
Rehabilitation of an ACL reconstructed knee begins the day of surgery. Patients are fitted with a brace in the interest of controlling range of motion and protecting the graft as it heals. Immediately after surgery, Nick awoke to have his first meeting with Physical Therapist, Dan Murray.
“I had an instant connection with Dan’s kind demeanor and patience,” Nick said. “I remember looking at my Mom and asking her if we could continue physical therapy with him at the Center in Hingham.”
South Shore Health’s Center for Orthopedics, Spine and Sports Medicine offers personalized sports therapy programs to speed healing and maximize performance. Staffed with dedicated physical and occupational therapists specializing in treating orthopedic conditions and athletic injuries, we offer proven rehabilitation protocols tailored to meet each patient’s unique goals.
“During rehabilitation, the first goal is to regain range of motion in the knee. An early indicator of success is a patient's ability to achieve full extension,” Murray said. “Athletes then move on to increasing strength with their foot off the ground, then putting weight on it and then progressing to sports-specific movements.”
For a competitive athlete like Nick, an injury like this happening during senior year—a crucial recruiting time with colleges—could certainly leave anyone feeling less than optimistic. Instead, Nick remained level-headed and used the opportunity to grow stronger.
“From the first day he came in for rehab and then on after he was a motivated, efficient, hard-working patient who not only hit every mark on time, but hit it in spades,” Dan said. “He was ready for the next step well before he should have been ready for the next step. That has a lot to do with how hard you work."
Physical therapy started out as twice a week and then slowly transitioned to every two or three weeks as Nick developed more and more strength and endurance. During this time, Dan continued to encourage him, acknowledging that the hard work and dedication he was putting into recovery would ultimately help him return to sports at an even higher level than prior to injury.
“I’ve always been more of an optimist—never letting my highs get too high or my lows get too low,” Nick said. “Dan’s great energy and calming presence helped push me forward every step of the way throughout physical therapy.”
Now a competitive college athlete, Nick is back in the game with restored confidence.
“There’s an old cliché that everything happens for a reason,” Nick explained. “And if there’s one good thing my ACL injury has done, it’s that it showed me firsthand the incredible things doctors and physical therapists can do. Dr. Geary was not only able to transform a piece of my hamstring into a new ACL, but he was also able to keep me hopeful and content throughout the whole process.”
After seeing how everyone involved in his care at the Center worked together as one to help him get through to the other side, Nick’s dream to become a doctor was even further solidified.
For many high school athletes with plans to pursue high-level college sports, an injury of this nature can be devastating. Nick encourages athletes with a similar injury to stay focused and determined during the recovery process.
“I realize in the midst of injury it's easy to feel like your athletic dreams are over, but going through the recovery process has taught me many important lessons about perseverance,” Nick said. “Never give up your dreams.”