At the beginning of the competitive gymnastics season, USA gymnast, Lili, encountered more pain daily as she continued with extensive training. What she originally thought was a bad foot cramp, giving her a “spiky” feeling in her right foot, ended up being a serious injury that would take months of physical therapy and rest from gymnastics.
While the condition appeared in mid-December, she tried to “push through”, continuing gymnastics training through mid-January. The pain, increasingly overwhelming, was beginning to stop her from performing skills that she had previously mastered. While her coach tried to increase the intensity of her workouts, Lili was doing all she could to simply limit the pressure on her foot.
With her first competition taking place in January, Lili was able to successfully compete, but knew the physical pain would get worse over time. A Physical Therapist at the National Team Training Camp, recommended that she see Dr. Cynthia LaBella, Medical Director of the Institute for Sports Medicine at Lurie Children’s.
Upon arriving at Lurie Children’s, Lili met with Dr. LaBella, who proceeded to take X-Ray and MRI scans. After the tests, Dr. LaBella discovered that the “spiky” pain in Lili’s toe had been a stress fracture of her second metatarsal bone. “The news was devastating,” said Lili, “but at least I had a solid reason for my pain.”
Dr. LaBella recommended rest from running, jumping, and other impact activities that cause pain, as well as physical therapy once a week to restore Lili’s foot back to health. Through this, Lili learned exercises that she still uses to build strength and agility while competing. Throughout the entire process, Dr. LaBella was extremely supportive, helping Lili communicate the plan to her coaches and school so she could take the necessary time off.
While surgical treatment was not required, Lili notes that, “recovery was just as frustrating”, as she wanted to be back on the carpet quickly. Getting “back in shape” was quite difficult, as it was a challenge to attain mastery again after months away from the sport.
“When you compete with an injury, no one knows,” said Lili. “Only my mom, my coach, and I knew what I was going through. The audience and the judges have no idea that you’ve been practicing less or that every step feels like walking on a spike. You deal with this burden yourself.”
Having a foot injury put her gymnastics career on pause for a bit, yet Lili learned a great deal about the importance of taking care of her body. Her injury didn’t set her back, but rather, encouraged her to continue to grow stronger. She continues to stretch, condition, and perform daily injury prevention workouts with professionals to build strength in her feet.
No longer in physical therapy, Lili is still making strides to maintain her quick recovery, having returned to full-intensity training and competing back in March. No longer in pain, she has begun to listen to her body more, taking further precautions while exercising. “Being an elite athlete means that I need to take the extra time and effort to prevent injuries,” Lili acknowledges.
In regards to her time at the hospital, she shares, “I’m glad my recovery went smoothly and I’m really grateful for all the support I’ve received from Lurie Children’s.”