Running After Repair

Dry needling helps physical therapist recover after hip surgery

Sometimes we forget that healthcare professionals can get sick or hurt, too. Healthcare personnel who undergo surgery or are recovering from injury need physical therapy to heal, just like anyone else. Fortunately, quality care is available at Covenant Health Therapy Centers, with locations across East Tennessee.

Margaret Keele, DPT, GCS, CSRS, CEEAA, has worked for over 10 years as a physical therapist at Parkwest Medical Center. An avid runner, Keele was experiencing pain in her right hip the summer of 2018, which was exacerbated with exercise. An MRI in November 2019 confirmed her pain was caused by a labrum tear.

“I thought it was my hamstring,” she recalls. “It just goes to show the importance of seeking care when you think something is wrong, because it could be more drastic than you think.”

The labrum is the cartilage that allows the ball and socket of the hip joint to operate smoothly during activity. When it becomes damaged, movement can be uncomfortable or cause pain.

Although she did not experience an isolated injury, Keele is an energetic, active person with a small frame. Over time, two pregnancies and the nature of her active job put stress on her hip, causing the tear.

Keele underwent surgery at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in January 2020 to repair the tear in her labrum. She was on crutches for three and a half weeks and was released to run again in spring 2020, after undergoing physical therapy to strengthen her hip.

Margaret Keele is keeping up with her active lifestyle following dry needling treatment at Covenant Health Therapy Center – Downtown.

The (Physical) Therapist Becomes the Patient

Keele is a neurological physical therapist who is board-certified in geriatrics and works with patients with neurological symptoms, such as those recovering from stroke or managing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. She is on her feet for most of the day, assisting people with motor skills and mobility.

“I do a lot of picking up items and bending down, and I participate in obstacle courses with my patients. We conduct one-on-one therapy sessions with patients in a gym setting, and I do the exercises with them.”

Keele’s active job and lifestyle meant she needed to get back on her feet sooner rather than later. After her surgery, she started running again, but would get cramps around the second mile. She noticed consistent tightness and cramping despite stretching regularly. Keele consulted with Paul Yau, MD, her orthopedic surgeon at Fort Sanders Regional, who agreed she should try a technique called dry needling.

“This technique uses a single solid dry needle, so it has no reservoir for fluid,” says Logan Pendergrass, Keele’s physical therapist at Covenant Health Therapy Center – Downtown, a department of Fort Sanders Regional. “I insert the needle into an active trigger point, or taught muscle. Inserting the needle causes the muscle to twitch and release, which we call an active release.”

After her first session, Keele noticed the difference in how her hip area felt. “Sometimes the tension release was immediate,” Keele explains. “He would find the exact spot to insert the needle and once it’s in, you can feel the muscle relax.”

Dry Needling

Despite the word “needle” in the title, Keele says it’s nothing to be scared of. “It doesn’t really hurt, and actually feels good when it’s over. It’s quick, and I felt better in three sessions.”

Pendergrass explains that in Keele’s case, the pain was from the muscle overcompensating for her labrum tear, where it had become weak. “As we release the muscle’s trigger points, and the patient continues strengthening with PT and stretching, the leg gets stronger and is able to move like it should. The muscles no longer need to compensate, which is why she gained strength and the pain decreased after only three sessions.”

Pendergrass emphasizes this treatment is never stand-alone, but is one of many tools used to help people restore strength in their joints and muscles.

“This can be an effective treatment for many injuries. When someone comes in for physical therapy, we do a full evaluation to determine what can help them best.”

Fast forward to 2023, and Keele continues to have minimal problems with her hip. She can do activities at work and play with her 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old twins. And she continues to run five miles at a time.

A Good Experience

Overall, she said her experience with Fort Sanders Regional was excellent, both for her surgery and her dry needling therapy. “I had a good surgery experience. Dr. Yau and everyone at the hospital from surgery to PT have always taken great care of me.”

Keele reflects, “Having worked as a physical therapist, I had acute awareness of what I needed to be doing. I think it also helped me as a therapist having been in that position. I know how it feels to be in my patient’s shoes.”

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