Learn more about Erin's recovery from ACL, MCL, and meniscus tear injuries
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‘Stronger Than I Was Before:’ Erin’s Comeback After ACL, MCL, and Meniscus Injury

In the final 10 seconds of a soccer game during her sophomore year, Erin slipped and fell.

“I planted my foot and slipped. I was cutting with the ball when my knee went one way and my body the other,” says Erin. “I just knew something terrible had happened.”

Initially, Erin thought she’d torn the medial collateral ligament, or MCL since she didn’t hear the popping sound often associated with an anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL tear. Erin scheduled an appointment with Dharmesh Vyas, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at UPMC Sports Medicine, to determine the extent of her injury.

After a clinical exam and an MRI, Dr. Vyas confirmed an MCL tear — and more. Erin also had torn her ACL and meniscus. But Dr. Vayas was confident that she could play soccer in her junior year.

“Dr. Vyas was fabulous from day one,” says Erin’s mother, Dawn. “He was calm and reassured us that Erin would be okay.”

Two weeks before surgery, Dr. Vyas had Erin participate in a pre-rehabilitation program to build strength in her right knee.

RELATED: 8 Tips to Prevent ACL Injuries

Three, Six, Nine: Preparing for a Comeback

Rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction surgery cannot be rushed. As eager as Erin was to get back to playing soccer, she followed the individualized recovery program created by Dr. Vyas and her physical therapist, Ashley Johnson, DPT.

Erin and Dr. Vyas

Erin and Dr. Vyas of UPMC Sports Medicine

To get Erin back on the field, Dr. Vyas used the numbers three, six, and nine to describe her recovery timeline.

Physical therapist Ashley Johnson, Erin, and Dr. Vyas of UPMC Sports Medicine

Three months after surgery, Erin would be allowed to jog again; at six months, she would be fitted for a knee brace while adding soccer related exercises to her rehabilitation program; and at nine months, if she followed the recovery program, she would be cleared by Dr. Vyas to return to play.

At the start of her physical therapy, Ashley incorporated exercises to help strengthen Erin’s legs and core which benefited her knee and her balance. She used free weight machines to perform leg presses, leg extensions, and hamstring curls.

Ashley also had Erin perform leg lifts on a balance trainer. Blood flow restriction therapy was used on Erin’s right knee to limit blood flow to the muscles, allowing her to increase quadriceps strength by using her body’s own growth factors to help accelerate the healing process.

Six months post-surgery, Erin was able to include soccer-related exercises such as box jumps, lunges, and cutting drills to her workout to reintroduce her body to the movements of her sport.

“When I first started wearing the knee brace, I ran at the local track to get used to wearing it,” remembers Erin. “Dr. Vyas recommended that I wear the brace all the time for a full year after my surgery.”

Nine months after the injury and less than 10 days before the start of soccer practice, Erin was cleared by Dr. Vyas to return to the field. To ease her back into the game, Erin’s coach had her  participate as a “non-contact” player while practicing with her team.

“My first game back was a little nerve-racking since the ACL injury happened when I was cutting during a game,” she says. “But knowing I was stronger than before let me relax and enjoy it.”

Erin’s junior season turned out to be an especially memorable one: her team clinched the girls’ Class (?)WPIAL title. (Is there a reason why the name of her high school isn’t mentioned anywhere in the story?)

“We can’t say enough about everyone who was involved with helping Erin return to soccer,” says Dawn. “It was a great experience after a very unfortunate event.”