Lily Reidy, 17, is an outgoing teenager who enjoys the camaraderie and friendly competition that afterschool sports afford her. She captains both her high school field hockey and girl’s lacrosse team. Her eager enthusiasm for sport has taken a toll on her body, though. In 2018, Lily tore her left ACL playing soccer, and then, in 2019, she tore her right ACL playing field hockey. Both her injuries were complete ruptures, requiring knee surgeries at her local hospital and personal training to build back her strength and symmetry. Lily recovered from both surgeries and returned to her school sports teams.
In 2021, Lily was knocked down during a game of field hockey. She got back up and felt ready to continue playing, but discomfort and instability convinced her that something was again going on with her right knee. Two weeks later, Lily was playing in a powder puff football game when she felt the same knee pop while catching a pass. Lily was immediately consumed by fear and sadness, anticipating the potential impact the new injury could have on her junior year, both on and off the field.
Lily’s mother, Jennifer, meanwhile, had seen a local news story featuring Miho Tanaka, MD, co-director of Mass General Brigham’s Women’s Sports Medicine Program, discussing ACL injury prevention techniques, and because of Lily’s history of ACL injuries, had invited Dr. Tanaka to come visit Lily’s school and teammates to discuss the prevention strategies when the COVID pandemic hit. When Lily suffered this third knee injury, Jennifer called Dr. Tanaka’s office and was surprised to hear Lily could be seen right away.
From their first meeting, Lily and Jennifer were struck by Dr. Tanaka’s confidence and expertise when discussing athletic knee injuries, and both knew they had come to the right place for ACL treatment.
“I had been pretty traumatized from my past injuries, not just the pain, but the anxiety of being sidelined and not knowing whether I’d play with my teammates again,” Lily says. “Dr. Tanaka immediately put me at ease; I could tell right away she knew what she was talking about, and she understood my concerns.”
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Luckily for Lily, returning athletes to play and keeping a patient’s lifestyle and performance goals central to their care are both key drivers for Tanaka and the Mass General Brigham Women’s Sports Medicine Program. In addition to reviewing Lily’s imaging and case history, Dr. Tanaka took additional x-rays and performed comprehensive imaging, including alignment radiographs and 3D CT scans, to check for other risk factors that could contribute to Lily’s recurrent ACL injuries. When it was confirmed that there had been another full rupture to Lily’s left ACL, Dr. Tanaka performed revision ACL reconstruction surgery.
“She was very thorough, explained everything she would be doing, and treated the area proactively; in addition to repairing the ACL rupture, she wanted to [address] Lily’s anterolateral ligament as well,” says Jennifer. According to Dr. Tanaka, addressing the anterolateral ligament during knee surgery is a cutting-edge approach that has shown promising results for reducing the risk of repeat ACL injuries. Lily’s knee surgery was performed as outpatient surgery, meaning she got to leave Mass General the same day. From intake to anesthesia, surgery to recovery and follow-up appointments, Lily says the entire team was kind and gentle, easing her anxiety and keeping her calm throughout the process.
Following her surgery, Lily met with Dr. Tanaka and was impressed with the comprehensive aftercare Mass General Brigham offered. Dr. Tanaka referred Lily to Isabella Sprague, PT, DPT, SCS, for physical therapy, and Lily fondly recalls how “Izzy” made it easy for her to work on her own recovery. “She laid out a recovery plan that was easy to follow, with benchmarks and goals. It made the slow recovery process much more manageable,” says Lily. Because this was the third extended period-of-time Lily would spend recuperating off the field, she struggled with depression. The day her teammates left on a trip to play field hockey in Florida was a particularly hard day for Lily.
“Although the surgery was a success, and I was healing nicely, I was struggling emotionally,” says Lily. “Dr. Tanaka referred me to a sports psychologist, Dr. Richard Ginsburg. Now, 10 months after my third surgery, I am feeling much better—not just physically, but emotionally as well. Dr. Tanaka and her team restored not only my knee but my outlook on life and my confidence on the athletic field. Additionally, Dr. Tanaka and her team educated me on injury prevention techniques so that I can do my best to avoid, God forbid, a fourth injury!”
According to Jennifer, a key component to Lily’s successful recovery was Dr. Tanaka’s return-to-play protocol and her injury prevention advice: “The result of that carefully constructed roadmap was monumental. She was at the gym regularly. She gained strength, muscle and confidence, and we could see the difference in how her body felt and reacted. She blew away her recovery goals with each passing month until she was finally fully cleared for play. She is the strongest I have ever seen her, physically and emotionally excelling, and she is back on the field. I’m so thankful for Dr. Tanaka’s expert care and treatment.”
Mass General Brigham Women's Sports Medicine brings together a world-class multidisciplinary team to provide every woman a personalized, sport-specific plan to help them get back to play as quickly and safely as possible. As part of this program, Dr. Tanaka, Dr. Matzkin, Dr. McInnis and the team offer a Women’s Sports Injury & Performance Clinic at Mass General that provides rapid access for injured athletes; clinic appointments can be scheduled by calling 617-643-3866.