For five years Hope Prockop, a competitive women’s squash player, battled chronic foot pain, while her daughter Lyle struggled with excruciating back pain. “It was really stressful to cope with both conditions,” says Hope. “I wondered if I would ever reach my goals.”
Mother and daughter found the care and support they needed at Boston Children’s Hospital, where a team of doctors got the pair running and helped Hope reach the pinnacle of her sport. She represented the U.S. on the Team USA national women’s squash team in 2006, 2008 and 2010 and won two U.S. Masters national titles and the Allam British Open 45+ Squash Championships in 2015.
In 2010, Hope was questioning her body and her athletic goals. She had chronic foot pain and had consulted podiatrists throughout Boston. Finally, she followed a friend’s advice and made an appointment with Dr. Thomas Vorderer, a podiatrist in Boston Children’s Sports Medicine.
“His commitment to keeping athletes in the game really resonated with me.”
Vorderer diagnosed Hope with plantar fasciitis and Morton’s neuroma, a common foot condition among squash players.
“I tell my patients it’s not what you have but why you have it. That’s the question patients need to ask their doctors,” says Vorderer.
He prescribed orthotics to help correct the problems and also recommended stretching. “Stretching is a big part of injury prevention. Most people don’t stretch enough,” he explains.
Hope returned to competitive squash and parenting her two daughters — not realizing her family’s relationship with Boston Children’s was just beginning.
Back to sports medicine
In December 2012, Lyle, then 13, began experiencing back pain.
As Lyle struggled with back pain and with anxiety about her pain, her sports medicine physician, Dr. Pierre d’Hemecourt, played a dual role — part sports medicine doctor and part counselor. “He was supportive of her potential and helped her understand the connection between fitness and happiness. He also helped me understand what my daughter was going through,” recalls Hope.
Chronic pain and back pain are often disconcerting for parents and children. d’Hemecourt educated Hope and Lyle about the mechanics of the spine and treatment options, helping them feel confident about their decisions. Lyle first opted for conservative therapy — bracing and steroid injections.
After a year, Lyle’s pain had not subsided, and d’Hemecourt referred her to Dr. Mark Proctor, interim neurosurgeon-in-chief. An MRI exam showed a herniated disk.
“Herniated disks are rare among teens. Unfortunately, when a teenager herniates a disk, it is less likely to respond to physical therapy than in an adult,” says Proctor. About half of teens who herniate a disk require surgery, a possibility d’Hemecourt had introduced earlier that year.
In February 2013, Lyle underwent microdiscectomy surgery to remove the section of bone pressing on her spinal cord.
Less than a year after the first surgery, Lyle’s back pain returned. She had herniated another disk. “Herniating a second disk is quite rare, but it does happen. Being athletic is a predisposition to herniating a disk, as is being female,” explains Proctor.
A second herniated disk takes its toll
Lyle’ second surgery was a success, but the back pain left its mark. “After seven MRIs and four steroid injections, Lyle was totally fearful,” says Hope.
She focused on helping her daughter recover physically and overcome her anxiety. Proctor and d’Hemecourt supported the family, reassuring Lyle she was unlikely to herniate another disk and telling her, “If it does happen, we can deal with it.”
Meanwhile, Hope’s foot pain re-surfaced. She continued to play squash, determined to compete at the top level.
For a while, Hope’s strategy worked. Lyle regained strength and confidence, and Hope reached the U.S. Masters National in March 2015.
Then Hope hit the breaking point. Her foot pain had become excruciating.
I tell my patients it’s not what you have but why you have it. That’s the question patients need to ask their doctors. ~ Tom Vorderer
Fearful she might have suffered a stress fracture, Hope recalled how Vorderer helped her a few years earlier.
“We tell patients our job is to make sure you don’t need us. It’s not uncommon for patients to go several years between visits,” explains Vorderer.
“He told me all the right things. ‘I love athletes. It’s not a stress fracture. We can sort it out,’” she recalls.
Vorderer prescribed new soft orthotics for Hope to wear as she played squash and hard orthotics for everyday use and reassured Hope the problem would correct itself in a few days.
“He was absolutely right. Within three days, I was able to train harder, and a week later I went to the British open and won.”
The Prockops continue to rely on Boston Children’s for care.
When Lyle thought she herniated a third disk in the summer of 2015, Hope prepared herself for bad news and asked Proctor to share Lyle’s MRI results with her before she saw her daughter.
The bad news never came. Proctor contacted Hope while Lyle was still in the MRI scanner with good news — Lyle had NOT herniated another disk.
“He knew I needed to manage any potential bad news and was completely attentive to my needs as a parent and Lyle’s needs as a patient,” says Hope.
The good news let the Prockops focus on wellness. Lyle spent her fall semester in the Bahamas, and Hope continues to compete at the top level of women’s squash.
Learn more about Sports Medicine at Boston Children’s.