After Devastating Injury, Physical Therapy Leads Gymnast to Nationals

By Drew Munhausen

In May 2018, 10-year-old Emily was demonstrating a series of back handsprings in her yard. She had been involved in competitive gymnastics for a few years, competing regionally with goals to compete at a national level. On the last handspring, Emily’s elbow dislocated, causing her excruciating pain.

An emergency room trip ended with Emily’s elbow back in place, but only surgery was going to help with a pinched nerve and bone fragments in the elbow that were the result of a fracture during the dislocation.

“Even after surgery, Emily wanted to stay involved in gymnastics,” said Donald Bolton, Emily’s father. “She went to her classes and did what she could. It was important that she was there to support the team.”

Emily was in a cast for six weeks and in a brace for several weeks after that – a tough time for a 10-year-old who is accustomed to being on the go. Once Emily was cleared for movement, she started physical therapy with Brian Duncan, Director of Human Performance with Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute.

“The goal was to increase the movement in her arm and get her strength back,” Duncan said. “Since Emily is a gymnast, it was important that she had a full range of motion in her arm, especially when it comes to fully straightening it. A lot of her forms required her to have her arms fully extended.”

In the event that Emily’s movement wasn’t back to where it needed to be, an additional surgery was a potential option. However, the experts at the Institute were determined to avoid that. Early in Emily’s recovery, she was attending physical therapy once a week. That was eventually increased to twice a week, and again to the point where she was attending therapy every day.

“The therapy helped Emily get to the point where she wasn’t going to need additional surgery,” Bolton said. “By October 2018, Emily was back to tumbling. She was competing again by January of this year. Not only was she able to participate, but she was still competing at the same level where she was before her injury.”

Emily competed in six different events during a regional competition. According to Bolton, Texas is one of the largest and most difficult competitive regions for gymnastics. Emily placed well enough that she qualified for nationals, and would travel to Florida to compete against 50 other gymnasts in her age group. This past July, Emily placed first in her flight on trampoline and double mini-trampoline. Overall, she placed in the top 10 of the 50 girls who qualified for nationals in her age and competition level.

Emily still attends her gymnastics classes three times a week, but is currently in the competition offseason. She’s about to start the sixth grade, and also plays lacrosse and volleyball.

For more information about physical therapy at the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute, or to make an appointment, click here.

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