Sports Girl Prepares for Knee Surgery

This doesn’t really fit in with the “country life” angle of my blog, but my oldest daughter who recently turned 14 is scheduled for knee surgery next week and it’s a big event for our family. I couldn’t find much information online covering her affliction and impending surgery, so I thought I would go ahead and detail the experience.

Sports Girl Wears Knee Brace While Playing Soccer

Sports Girl wore this special knee brace for the entire fall soccer season. It helped her feel a bit more secure, but ultimately it didn't keep her knee cap from subluxing again.

Sports Girl first dislocated her left patella or knee cap following a collision during a physical education class in April. I say “dislocated” because most people will understand what that means, but her patella actually “subluxed.” That means it went out of place and then shortly after went back into place on its own. A truly dislocated patella must be manipulated to be put back into place. (Slammed back into place is probably a more accurate description, but we’ll go with “manipulated.”) The full, proper term for the temporary dislocation which Sports Girl experienced is “patellar subluxation.”

At first I thought the episode was nothing but a fluke. Sports Girl took a few days off from P.E. and spring soccer practices; she also missed one Saturday soccer game which was a huge sacrifice for her. She returned to soccer practice on Monday, and her left patella promptly subluxed again – this time just as she planted her left foot to kick with her right, without anyone touching her.

Now I knew we needed to look into this issue further. I took Sports Girl to see a local physician’s assistant; she recommended Sports Girl wear a neoprene knee brace, exercise to build up her muscles and perhaps undergo physical therapy. We decided to wait to see how Sports Girl’s knee would heal before starting physical therapy – perhaps she just hadn’t given it enough time before going back to sports. But we did pick up a basic knee brace at our local sporting goods store.

I first wrote about Sports Girl’s knee troubles about this time. You can see my post relating to bike riding as exercising here.

Summer was fast approaching, and she would be able to take more time off to recover. The thing was, it was becoming obvious that the patellar subluxation experiences had left their mark on Sports Girl’s body and mind. She was continuing to experience discomfort, and she was extremely anxious about her knee whenever she did any physical activity. So I decided to get another medical opinion. This time we went to a full-fledged medical doctor and used the appointment to also conduct a physical examination to meet school athletic requirements for the next year. This two-for-one approach helped me convince Handsome Hubby that we should spend the money on another office visit even though he was personally convinced that Sports Girl would eventually just grow out of this problem.

Second Doctor Refers Us to Orthopedic Surgeon

But this doctor had other thoughts. He paid special attention to Sports Girl’s bone structure and build and to how generously loose her joints presented. He thought she was a prime candidate for surgery to correct her problem and he referred us to an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in sports medicine and who was utilizing new surgical methods to correct this particular issue.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get in to see this sports med/ortho for about 6 weeks; it was already late June, and the fall soccer season was fast approaching. In the mean time, we tried to get in to see our local orthopedic surgeon, but we had to start by seeing his physican’s assistant. This P.A. also recommended physical therapy, so with two written orders on file with the physical therapy department, we decided to go ahead and get started with that before seeing the other orthopedic surgeon.

Sports Girl Starts Physical Therapy

The physical therapy seemed to make Sports Girl’s knee hurt more before it got better, but she did make progress. Her exercises called for strengthening not just her VMO , quads and hamstrings, but also her hip flexers, glutes and abdomen. Since girls have a wider core, research has shown the important of strengthening the whole package to heal and prevent injuries. Prior to this I thought a 13-year-old girl was much too young to be introduced to the weight room, but now I’m convinced that with proper training and a proper approach of lifting a lighter amount of weight for more repetitions, weight training or strength training in general may well be crucial to keeping teenage girls physically healthy.

When we finally got in to see the sports med ortho, he ordered x-rays of Sports Girl’s knee and confirmed that her patella sat at an outward tilt, which became more pronounced when her leg was bent at a slight angle. That combined with her loose joints made her very susceptible to patellar subluxation and dislocation. And once the patella slides out of place, the ligaments attached to it become stretched or torn, resulting in subsequent subluxations. He prescribed a special knee brace which cradled her knee cap with a horseshoe-shaped support and urged her to continue with the physical therapy.

She plugged along with PT through the summer, faithfully wore her new knee brace and started fall soccer. But she still seemed cautious; she just wasn’t her usual aggressive self. Those subluxation episodes were very painful and she definitely was scared it was going to happen again. A couple of times she told me, “I felt it almost go today.” But thankfully it didn’t. So while she continued doing her exercises, we ended our visits to the physical therapist who had offered these prophetic words, “The real test will be basketball.”

Sports Girl took three weeks off between soccer and basketball, but continued her PT exercises. She really did. I reminded her and pressured her regularly. That’s what moms do, right?

During the first week of basketball her patella subluxed again – this time as she pivoted on her left leg while running a ladder for conditioning. Again, no one touched her, and she was wearing the special knee brace at the time. The episode dropped her to the floor in a crying heap. I got the emergency call from the coach that I might want to come get her early from practice.

Surgery Is Scheduled for Dec. 17

We called the sports med ortho doctor a couple of days later and he said she should not play basketball if she was experiencing pain and that he wanted to see her again. Somehow this time we managed to get an appointment for the very next Monday. That’s when he showed us how fluid had pooled up in her knee. I hadn’t noticed her knee looking bruised or swollen following any of the subluxation incidents, but there was definitely fluid there. And then the doctor uttered those dreaded words. “The last thing I want to do is put a 14-year-old girl on the operating table, but I think we are looking at surgery.”

He also recommended that she quit playing basketball until the problem was corrected. It was a heart-wrenching appointment for Sports Girl, yet she didn’t argue with any of his recommendations. She promptly notified her coach that she would be out for the season but that she would like to serve as team manager. And she started mentally preparing herself for the surgery. That was mid-November. The surgery has been scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 17. I think the five-week wait has been the hardest on Sports Girl – that and watching her basketball teammates lose a couple of very close games while she’s sidelined keeping the stats book.

I’ll post more about her situation and the type of surgery she is having done in the next couple of days. Subscribe using Feedburner to receive e-mail notifications of my posts or keep checking back!

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4 thoughts on “Sports Girl Prepares for Knee Surgery

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your daughter’s story. My daughter is scheduled to have the exact same surgery in 3 weeks. She is so stressed and full of anxiety! Reading your story put everything into layman terms and the photos showed my daughter what to expect.

    Sounds like our girls have the same injury. A subluxation following soccer collision, failed PT and resulting surgery. We are told 3-4 months rehab so we will look for updates to see how quickly your daughter was able to return.

    In the meantime my daughter is in PT trying to strengthen the quads as much as possible knowing it will atrophy later.

    I will check back for more updates to see how things go for you. We are told no knee braces once totally healed but I’ve researched some good ones specific to knee subluxation just in case!

    Thanks,
    Sue

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m glad our experience can be of help to someone else. Our daughters’ issues do indeed sound very similar, if not exactly the same. I was hesitant to be overly optimistic going into this process, but if Sports Girl gets released for physical activity on March 29 as we expect, that will be only 3 1/2 months post-op — which is on the very short side of the 3 to 6 months we were told to expect.

      Best of luck to you and your daughter as the surgery date approaches. Be prepared for a week or so of pain and discomfort, and then several weeks/months of hard work to get back into shape. But for us, I don’t think the experience was as bad as we might have feared. We are definitely thankful we had it taken care of before any permanent damage was done.

      – Country Mom

  2. My son is a football player at a division 1 college. He has the same injury as your daugther. He just went through spring practice and survived but he is still in pain. The off season work out started today but he has real issues with the drills. I am encouraged by your success but the Ortho Doc thinks he can rehab the knee by building up the quads,. The Trainer thinks his careet may be over. Nether seem to think the surgery is a good option because it isn’t a high probability of success. Any guidance???

    • Hello,

      I have learned that different ortho docs have different opinions. Maybe you should seek a second opinion? From what I’ve read/heard the surgeries that involve simply repairing a person’s own tissue have only about a 20% success ratio. But the surgery my daughter had done utilizing a cadaver ligament has a much higher success rate. Although some ortho docs think using a donor ligament is risking, but with all of the donor stuff being done, I really don’t understand their concerns.

      But I should also mention that the surgery requires several months (almost 6 in our case) of recovery, which might not work well for your son’s football schedule. We didn’t do the surgery with any hopes of a college sports scholarship or anything. We just want Sportsgirl to have a healthy, active life well into the future. We knew that with each subluxation/dislocation, valuable cartilage was lost. And the last time our daughter’s knee went out, it did so while she was simply running a ladder for conditioning during basketball practice; no one even touched her. That told us how fragile her knee had become.

      I hope these comments help. I know it is a difficult decision and it’s different for everyone. But so far we have been pleased with our decision.

      ~ Country Mom

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