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Free High School Sports Injury Screening Program Gets Cheerleader Back in Action


By Kirsten Steinman   |   September 18, 2017

Shannon Webster, a cheerleader in her junior year at Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, was eager and bright-eyed for the first football game of the 2016 season. As part of her squad’s “base,” she helped lift and sometimes throw other cheerleaders into the air during stunts, a responsibility that requires both arm and leg strength.

In the first couple minutes of the Friday game, during a routine they had performed hundreds of times before, Shannon felt another cheerleader’s foot come down on her bent leg. The next few seconds were a blur. Somehow she managed to bring her teammate down safely before crumpling to the ground in pain.

Steve Larrabee

Fortunately, UC San Diego Health employs certified athletic trainers at all San Diego Unified School District high schools and Christina Gramer, an athletic trainer, was at the game that night. She promptly assessed Shannon’s leg, noting she could stand and walk with what seemed to be only mild discomfort. While the damage seemed minimal, she referred Shannon to UC San Diego Health’s Sports Medicine clinic in La Jolla, where a new program offers free injury screenings for high school athletes on Saturday mornings throughout the fall.

Shannon watched the rest of the football game from the bench. But at home after the game, she attempted to stand up and her knee snapped. “It was excruciating,” Shannon said.

The next morning, Shannon’s mother, Maureen, took her to UC San Diego Health’s Saturday injury screening. They met with Kevin Messey, a certified athletic trainer, and Sarah Merrill, MD, primary care sports medicine physician, who conducted an exam, performed diagnostic tests and gave her an X-ray. They provided a referral for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm their suspected diagnosis. 

Messey contacted Maureen as soon as he received the MRI results. The scan verified that Shannon had torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and both sides of her meniscus, a crescent-shaped piece of cartilage that cushions the knee and keeps it steady.

Located in the middle of the knee, the ACL prevents the shinbone from sliding out in front of the thighbone. It is one of the most commonly injured major knee ligaments in both athletes and non-athletes. ACL injuries are classified according to the amount of damage to the ligament. In Shannon’s case, the injury was grade III — or a total rupture of the ligament fibers. Surgery was recommended, or her knee could be unstable for the rest of her life.

Sports injury screening staff scheduled Shannon for an appointment that week with Catherine Robertson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at UC San Diego Health and head team physician for the San Diego Padres. Robertson discussed options for surgery and recommended physical therapy to help keep Shannon’s muscles strong during the three weeks leading up to surgery.

Thanks to advanced surgical techniques, the success rate for ACL reconstruction at UC San Diego Health is very high. Postoperative physical rehabilitation is also vital to restoring function after a sports injury. UC San Diego Health physical therapists work closely with orthopedic surgeons to create personalized recovery programs to help athletes manage their pain effectively and recuperate quickly.

“They were awesome at UC San Diego Health — Dr. Merrill, Kevin Messey, even the nurses during surgery,” Shannon’s mother, Maureen, said of their overall experience. “They took their time. They were just really great. We were so lucky that Christina Gramer was at the game that night and the clinic was available the following day.”

Every year in San Diego, thousands of teenagers participate in high school sports and are injured at almost the same frequency as professional athletes. However, because teens’ bodies are still growing, injuries can affect them differently and may contribute to tendon and growth plate injuries in the future if not treated properly. To ensure the best possible recovery, it’s important that teenage athletes see a specialist immediately following an injury.

UC San Diego Health’s free Saturday sports injury screening program is available to all high school athletes in the San Diego region every Saturday through November 18, 2017. Student athletes simply need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian and bring their student ID.

“We love our Saturday injury screening program because we can help kids who might not otherwise have access to high-quality health care,” said Darrell Dyas, who manages the program. “And it has really brought our team together — physicians, athletic trainers, physician assistants. At our core, we all want to help people get better.”

Less than a year after her injury, Shannon’s knee has completely healed and she has returned to her active lifestyle, including running and exercising every day. While she looks back fondly on the last six years as a cheerleader, the break has inspired her to pursue a new dream: trying out for a spot on Patrick Henry High School’s water polo team.

For more information about UC San Diego Health’s sports injury screening program for high school athletes, please visit Free Sports Injury Screening for Student Athletes

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