“I just came down wrong,” remembers 15-year-old athlete Meaghan Lilienthal. “I was doing this little lay-up shot.”
It was just an after-school basketball game, a “pick-up” game with a few friends. But it ended with a swollen, discolored, painfully-sprained ankle, a trip to the Emergency Room, and then several weeks of physical therapy with Ron Berger at Atlas Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. But the story doesn’t end there.
“Ron inspired me to become a physical therapist,” says Meaghan, who plays on her high school’s basketball and volleyball teams.
“I’m ecstatic about that,” says Meaghan’s mom, Sherry. “To think that her sprained ankle put her on a career path is exciting!”
However, neither Sherry nor Meaghan was too happy or excited after the bad sprain.
“It didn’t hurt real bad at first,” Meaghan says. “Actually, I didn’t feel much of anything. My ankle felt like – well – cardboard.”
Meaghan rode her bike home: “Funny, I had the cell phone with me, but didn’t think to call my mom.”
Meaghan came in around 6:30 that evening, recalls her mother. “We propped it up and put ice on it,” says Sherry.
But, two hours later, when Meaghan stood up, she felt a “rush of fluid” in her ankle and the swelling and discoloration – as well as the pain – got pretty bad.
“My toes were cranberry-colored,” recalls Meaghan.
So, they went to the hopsital. “At the ER they X-rayed my foot and told me I had torn the ligaments and needed to see an orthopaedic surgeon. They gave me an air cast and told me to see the doctor on Monday,” recounts Meaghan.
Fortunately, nothing was broken, said the doctor, and Meaghan was referred for rehab to Ron Berger, PT, at Atlas Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine.
Another physician referred Todd Gillean to Atlas Physical Therapy after the 17-year-old quarterback of the Bartram Trail High School football team, the Bears, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his knee during the first game of the 2000 season. Fortunately, Ron Berger was on the sidelines during the game and diagnosed the sprain. He sent Todd to the doctor and then the doctor sent Todd right back to Ron for therapy.
“Ron helps out the football team,” says Todd. “He knew what it was right away.”
Ron started Todd’s therapy right away as well. Fortunately it was a sprain and not a complete tear
“The first week I nursed it. It was a little swollen and required icing,” recalls Todd. “Then Ron started me on exercises, like leg lifts to keep my hamstrings strong. I only missed two games. I went back and played with a knee brace because of the lateral moves on the field. Ron helped me out a lot. He got me back as quick as possible, but made certain I was ready.”
Meaghan also started physical therapy with a sense of urgency. Not too far down the road to recovery she wanted to try out for the varsity volleyball team.
Not only did she forge ahead, Meaghan started learning about physical therapy and sports medicine from the inside.
“A sprain is an injury to the ligaments, the tough, elastic tissue that connects the bones in the ankle,” explains Ron. “It usually happens when the ankle rolls outward, causing the sole of one foot to face the other. The ligaments on the outside of the rolled foot stretch. Or, in severe cases, the ligaments tear.”
Meaghan’s sprain was severe; the ligaments actually tore rather than just stretched. That meant that not only did she need to rehab the ankle to reduce pain and swelling, but would have to work hard toward regaining strength, mobility and flexibility.
Ron gave me this little boot,” says Meaghan. “It’s like a ski boot with Velcro to tighten it. It gave my ankle great support.”
The first rehab step, explains Meaghan, was her use of the “contrast bath,” alternating hot and cold whirlpool for the foot. “That really helped with the bruising,” says Meaghan. “The bruising went away in a week or so. My ankle was still sore, but it was really not as painful as it had been.”
Ron then escalated her physical therapy onto higher-tech equipment.
“Next, Ron did electro-shock on the ankle,” says Meaghan, who already talks like a physical therapist. “This stimulated the blood flow and the muscle. It was like a little tingle underneath these pads that attached to the ankle and leg.”
With the swelling and discoloration well under control, the next step was to get the flexibility and strength back. So Meaghan and Ron worked with stretching and strength exercises.
“It’s like a big rubber band,” says Meaghan of the elastic strap she pushed against. “Ron held one end and you move your foot back and forth.”
Soon, she was able to go back to walking without the crutches and went back to volleyball in time to make the team.
Meaghan says that Ron gave her moral support and encouragement as well as physical therapy. “I was worried about trying out for the varsity volleyball team,” recalls Meaghan. “But Ron made me realize that I could do it. By May I was back to normal. By June I was confident that I could do anything that I had been doing before the sprain.
Not only is Meaghan’s ankle now letting her do sports at full-speed, she is changing her academic focus so that she can follow-up on the other inspiration from Ron. She knows that physical therapy school is difficult to get into, but she’s going to slam-dunk it.
“I think it will be very rewarding,” says Meaghan. “Isn’t it funny – just because I came down wrong on my ankle, I have a new career interest! Something bad happened, but something good is going to come out of it.”
With football season over, Todd has turned his attention to basketball. “The knee feels real good,” he confirms.
Make a note…
The professional staff at ATLAS Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, Inc. will be happy to answer your questions regarding this article or related topics. The office is located in the Mandarin South Business Center, at 12421 San Jose Blvd., Bldg. 2, Suite B, in Jacksonville. For more information, please call (904) 292-0195.
Ronald C. Berger, PT, ATC, is a licensed physical therapist and certified athletic trainer. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy from Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, after earning a degree in Physical Education with an emphasis in athletic training at Samford University, Birmingham.