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Sports Medicine Care Helps Player Return to Field

Sports medicine patient Seth Zegunis.

February 22, 2019

The last few weeks of the 2015 football season were painful for Seth Zegunis, then a sophomore at Blue Valley Northwest High School. The ache in his hip wasn’t bad enough to keep him from playing, but it made his offensive and defensive line duties difficult. By season’s end, he knew something had to be done.

"He'd played through the pain, but after our last game, he told me that if we'd had any more games on the schedule, he wouldn't have been able to continue," says Mike Zegunis, Seth's father and Blue Valley Northwest's head football coach.

Coach Zegunis knew the football season could take a toll on the players. Soreness and fatigue were to be expected – especially for growing boys. But when Seth came to him in worse-than-average pain, he decided they should consult the high school’s head athletic trainer Christy Grimes, part of The University of Kansas Health System's Sports Medicine and Performance Center.

Already concerned about a bicep tendon injury, Seth sought out Grimes for treatment on his shoulder and decided to mention his hip. With the injury presenting as a mild hip flexor strain, Grimes started Seth on hip stretches and made an appointment for him to see David Smith, MD, one of the hospital's sports medicine physicians.

Source of the pain

After Dr. Smith’s evaluation, Seth and his father were surprised to learn that a hip labral tear was causing the athlete’s pain. This type of injury occurs when the band of cartilage surrounding the hip joint is damaged. Often the result of trauma, such as a fall or car accident, labral injuries also can be caused by repetitive trauma to the hip joint. These injuries are, however, rare among high school football players.

"In my time as coach, I’ve seen these injuries in shoulders, but never in hips," says Coach Zegunis, who has served as head coach of the Blue Valley Northwest Huskies since 2005. "I had no idea Seth’s injury was so serious. I’d thought it was just growing pains. That’s why I’m glad we have experts like Christy and The University of Kansas Hospital’s sports medicine team."

Seth had surgery to repair the torn labrum. Orthopedic surgeon Scott Mullen, MD, another member of the health system's sports medicine care team, performed the procedure. Seth was then set up for rehabilitative therapy with the health system’s physical therapy manager, Martin Dolphino, and 2 therapists. The team began working right away to make Seth’s treatment effective and enjoyable.

Time for rehab

"Working with high school athletes can be challenging because you have to be part physical therapist, part counselor, part cheerleader, part coach and part parent," says Dolphino. "This is often when athletes have their first injury. They need help dealing with both the injury and the implications of it. But Seth is such a great kid. He was so amiable, and everyone here knew him. And he had such a mature attitude toward his rehab."

Part of Dolphino’s strategy for treating Seth was to capitalize on his competitiveness. The physical therapy team encouraged him to treat rehab the same way he did football – try to be the best by following instructions, working hard and resisting the urge to cut corners.

The strategy worked. Seth’s desire to be ready for spring baseball propelled him to work hard and to do everything the care team recommended. He took the advised time off, began doing prescribed stretches when given the go-ahead and faithfully stuck to his rehab exercise routine. And even when spring baseball came and went without Seth’s hip being well enough for strenuous action, he remained patient and trusted his doctors.

"Martin and the team were awesome," says Seth, who is now in college at Northwest Missouri State University. "I knew I could trust them, and I tried to do exactly what they said. It was hard work, but they made it fun and were really encouraging."

Back in the game

In the end, the treatment Seth received and his commitment to the process paid off. At the beginning of the 2016 football season, he was 100% healed and ready to go. He was ready to help his Huskies vie for a conference title in the always-tough Eastern Kansas League.

"Seth did amazingly well and didn't have any issues with his hip once the 2016 season started," reports Grimes. "He was a hard worker who played within the rules, and he did everything he could to get back on the field quicker but safely. He was the kind of injured athlete I like to work with because he does what he is supposed to do without complaining or having to be told. Then he asks what else he can do."

Throughout the process, both Seth and Coach Zegunis gained a new level of appreciation for Grimes, whom Coach Zegunis has trusted with his athletes for roughly a decade, and for the health system’s entire sports medicine care team.

"Being plugged in to this sports medicine system is great," says Zegunis. Blue Valley Northwest’s team is under the official healthcare of The University of Kansas Hospital’s Sports Medicine and Performance Center. "I don’t have to worry about things that aren’t within my expertise. I can trust Christy with the health of my players, and know she’s connected to a larger group of professionals we can call on when needed."

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