From torn labrum to Harvard hockey MVP

From torn labrum to Harvard hockey MVP
Photo courtesy of Elan Kawesch/Harvard Athletics

Sarah Edney, women’s ice hockey defenseman at Harvard University, has had an impressive college career, scoring 25 goals and 63 assists during her four years playing for the Crimson women. Competing at this level requires an athlete to skate year-round and put in countless hours of off-ice training.

During her senior year, Sarah played a key role in the Crimson women’s 2014-15 season. The team often outplayed the competition, winning every championship, until losing in the National Championship game at the Frozen Four. Sarah was showered with honors and named MVP for the League tournament and second team All-American. The Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) named her defenseman of year in March.

The big surprise? “My best year of college hockey came after hip surgery and without skating for four months.”

In April 2014, the 21-year old underwent surgery to repair a labral tear (a rip in area that seals the hip joint) in her left hip and femoracetabular impingement (FAI or hip impingement), a hip anatomy that is common in athletes and predisposes her to tearing the labrum. It’s a complex surgery that requires a 4-month rehabilitation plan.

The groin pain that started it all

Sarah’s journey from the Harvard ice to Boston Children’s operating room started during the 2013 hockey season, with a nagging groin pain that seemed to worsen with pivoting and hopping the boards—critical skills for a hockey player. Her trainer referred her to a Harvard physician, who placed a call to Mininder Kocher, MD, MPH, associate director of Boston Children’s Sports Medicine. Sarah made the appointment. After examining her, Kocher suspected a labral tear.

In January 2014, an MRI confirmed that Sarah had a torn labrum, and an x-ray showed that she has FAI. “When an athlete has FAI, the hip joint has a bump where there should be a valley. In an active athlete, the bump continually bangs into the labrum and hip socket, which results in the labral tear. This can eventually lead to arthritis,” explains Kocher.

“It seemed like a lot, and I really wanted to finish the hockey season,” says Sarah. Kocher reassured her that a labral tear is not usually a season-ending injury and that with rehabilitation and a cortisone injection she could get through her season and then have surgery.

Sarah went ahead with the recommended cortisone shot, physical therapy and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal antinflammatory drugs), and they agreed to schedule the two-hour surgery for May.

High-tech surgery

From torn labrum to Harvard hockey MVP
Sarah’s love for ice started young.

Kocher told Sarah the treatment goal was to return her to hockey for her senior year and focus on the long-term health of her hip. “The surgeon needs to repair both the labral tear and the FAI to prevent re-injury or further joint damage. TheSarah’s love for ice started is a fairly high-tech procedure done through three small incisions. At Boston Children’s, we use bio-absorbable anchors to repair the labrum and maintain its function, and we shape the bump into a valley to create a more normally hip anatomy and address the FAI.”

Sarah, however, didn’t feel much apprehension before the 2-hour surgery. “Dr. Kocher made sure to visit with me and my family before surgery, and the nurses were welcoming and always smiling, so I felt calm and relaxed.”

After surgery, Sarah spent three weeks on crutches and stayed with her trainer in Boston before Kocher determined she could return to her family’s home in Toronto for the rest of the summer. He coordinated with Sarah’s Toronto-based physical therapist, sharing a rehabilitation program developed by Boston Children’s Sports Medicine that allows most athletes to return to sports four months after surgery.

Despite the successful surgery and positive prognosis, recovery was a bit of a tough transition for the dedicated defenseman.

From torn labrum to Harvard hockey MVP
Photo courtesy of Elan Kawesch/Harvard Athletics

“One of the most frustrating things was that I felt good so quickly, but I couldn’t run or skate. I missed the ice.”Photo: Elan Kawesch/Harvard Athletics

Together with her physical therapist, Sarah figured out alternate activities. During physical therapy, she worked on balance and core exercises. Not one to sit still for long, Sarah biked and swam daily and spent several days a week at the gym, where she worked on upper-body strength and single-leg-balance exercises.

When she returned to Harvard in the fall, Sarah was “fired up” to get back on the ice. “I was excited but also scared that I would start slow.” Her hard work during the summer paid off. Two assists in the second game of the season and a goal in the third put her fears to rest.

With the college hockey season wrapped up, Sarah has other things on her mind—finishing her senior year and graduating with a degree in history and science. After graduation, she plans to take a year to focus on hockey with the hopes of making the senior national team for Canada and ultimately the 2018 Olympics team.

Learn more about how Boston Children’s treats patients with labral tears.