Sports Injury: J C Lorenz's Story - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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J.C. Lorenz's Story

Getting back in the Swing of Things

J.C. Lorenz has always enjoyed an active lifestyle, regularly playing basketball, golf, softball, running and snowboarding. However, one morning a few years ago, his sports-filled schedule was jeopardized by a common but traumatic athletic injury.

In January 2006, Lorenz was playing basketball with his weekly morning league as he had done for years. During the game he jumped up to rebound the ball and came down hard – and wrong – on his left leg, experiencing an unfamiliar and shocking pain in his knee.

J.C. Lorenz"It was the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life," said Lorenz. "I knew immediately what happened and I had flashes of all my friends who had this same injury through the years who were never 100% the same afterwards. I was terrified I'd have to give up all the things I love – snowboarding, basketball, softball, running and golf."

The then 28-year-old was only three months away from his wedding and honeymoon with a potentially serious injury. He made an appointment with Dr. Joel Press, Medical Director of the Spine & Sports Rehabilitation Center (SSRC) at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) to confirm his diagnosis and figure out a treatment plan.

Diagnosis, Education and Treatment

Dr. Press diagnosed Lorenz with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, more commonly known as ACL, a frequent injury among athletes that affects the ligaments around the knee. Dr. Press determined that Lorenz would need surgery to repair the torn ligaments and a customized rehabilitation program to ensure that he regain function and prevent any future injury.

With his big day on the horizon, Lorenz knew undergoing surgery right away would make it nearly impossible to enjoy the wedding events - it would mean no walking down the aisle, dancing at his reception and no golf on his honeymoon. Dr. Press suggested a pre-surgical treatment plan that would allow him to postpone surgery for a few months without further injuring himself or delaying his eventual recovery and help increase his chances for a faster recovery by building up the surrounding muscles and ligaments and working on flexibility and endurance. Lorenz immediately began physical therapy at RIC's SSRC outpatient facility in River Forest to strengthen the muscles and tendons around his knee until the surgery could be performed.

"'Pre-habilitation' is when we address improving the mechanics and function before the structure or surgery," said Annie O'Connor, physical therapist at RIC's SSRC. "When people are able to regain full motion, function and strength before the surgery it makes post-surgical recovery much easier to restore."

Lorenz worked with O'Connor in physical therapy once a week for the three months leading up to his wedding and did daily exercises and stretches at home provided by his therapist. Through all this hard work, he was able to postpone surgery until after his wedding. Lorenz says the exercises and treatments were meant to not only build strength but also to increase the range of motion to relieve swelling in the knee.

"What Annie quickly assessed was that I had terrible flexibility in my thighs and legs which probably attributed to my injury," said Lorenz. "With each session of physical therapy, I learned something new about my body. It was really amazing."

RIC's SSRC experts use a whole-body approach to diagnosing and treating orthopaedic injuries. The body's kinetic chain presents cause-and-effect relationships throughout the body's intricate network of muscles, bones and connective tissues.  The site of the pain might not be where the central problem is located. So, for instance, you might feel pain in your knee because of a problem in your hip. RIC's experts assess the whole body and diagnose and treat the core of the problem, not just the symptoms.

"Many times, the body's musculature is victim to an issue in another part of the body.  In many knee injury cases, especially ACL injuries, it's the inability to control gravity at the foot and hip caused by inflexibility or weakness that causes the problem, "said O'Connor. "RIC takes pride in recognizing a person's specific injuries identifying not only the body's 'victims,' but also the 'culprits' that are typically the root of the injury, and then assisting in healing and future injury prevention."

Back in training

On July 1, 2006, Lorenz got married and jetted off to his Hawaiian honeymoon. The exercises he worked on with Annie had strengthened his leg enough for Lorenz to fully enjoy it all. He and his wife went hiking, snorkeling and even got in a game of golf while in Hawaii.

"I was shocked at how good I felt," Lorenz said. "I was glad I didn't have to rely on crutches or a brace like the many other people I have known who had ACL injuries."

Two months after the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon, Dr. Stephen Gryzlo of Northwestern Memorial Hospital performed surgery to repair Lorenz's torn ACL. The pre-surgery rehabilitation exercises paid off - he was able to restart physical therapy with Annie just a few days after his surgery, much sooner than if he had not undergone the months of exercise before his operation.  He began physical therapy four times per week, eventually decreasing the meetings to twice a week as Lorenz's leg grew stronger. He slowly returned to the active lifestyle he led before injuring himself and the sports he loved to play.  At first he started with a lot of walking and maintained the strength and flexibility exercises his therapists suggested, and eventually he returned to his weekly basketball game, weekend golf and running.

"The most important lesson I took away from this experience is that everything in the body is connected, and stresses to one area could be coming from a different part of the body," said Lorenz.  "This experience really educated me on how everything is related. I have a better understanding of how important it is to know what is hurting and get an evaluation of why: is it something I am physically doing? Is it something I can work on through stretching or strength and conditioning exercises?"

Since Lorenz's surgery and post-operation rehabilitation, he has fully recovered and returned to his active lifestyle - and then some! 

10,000-Mile Tune-ups

Now four years since his ACL injury, Lorenz is even more active than he was before.  His recreational golf games have evolved into weekly tournaments and he's traded weekly basketball games for softball.

Lorenz has continued to use the exercises and treatments he learned in physical therapy to maintain his health. Prior to his ACL injury, Lorenz says he was more likely to ignore a pain or pull in his body. He is now more aware and has returned to RIC to meet with doctors for evaluation and therapies to relieve pain in his back and hamstrings.

"Through my experience at RIC, I've learned never to ignore pain," said Lorenz. "I've been back to see Dr. Press, Dr. Lento and Annie for additional "tune-ups" as a result of back pain that occasionally comes and goes. Each time I come in, I know that they will help me identify what is causing the problem and set me on the right path to fixing it."

Lorenz just finished a session of physical therapy to help relieve some lower back pain he experienced in relation to the sports he plays as well as his work habits as an investment advisor which require him to sit at a desk all day or drive to client appointments - all taxing on the lower back.

"RIC helped me understand that my body mechanics, posture and lifestyle were contributing to my pain," he said. "They helped identify different stretches and exercises that I do each morning and night to help realign my back and prevent pain.

RIC's SSRC treats a range of conditions including back pain and injury (herniated discs, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, sciatica, unspecified pain); neck, ankle/foot, shoulder and knee pain; all types of sports injuries; and some workplace injuries. RIC also includes specialists in post-breast-cancer rehabilitation, women's health rehabilitation (for incontinence or pelvic pain), temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) and industrial medicine.

"They're amazing. I have received great care and a great education on how to better take care of my body," Lorenz says. "I'll never go anywhere else."

RIC's SSRC practice has locations in Chicago at 1030 N. Clark St. and River Forest, Illinois.