Return to Play

Physical therapist Jen Wallerich, DPT ’06, spends 40 minutes assessing Nancy Bartley’s leg weakness and back discomfort. She leads the 62-year-old author through an evaluation that tests strength, mobility, biomechanics and more. At the end of the session, she renders the verdict.

Jen Wallerich, DPT ’06, uses a model to explain Nancy Bartley’s back challenges.
All photos: Clare McLean

“We’re going to want to see you once or twice a week,” Wallerich tells Bartley. Other recommendations: stretch. Work on spinal stability exercises. Consider purchasing a desk where you can stand and work. Bartley, still managing the after-effects of a car accident in 2008, takes it all in. There’s a lot at stake for someone who loves to participate in sports as much as she does.

Still, today is just a tune-up, a resumption of physical therapy after travel abroad on a Fulbright scholarship. Bartley clearly remembers the period — just after the accident — that left her with severe pain in her back and leg.

“At the time,” says Bartley, “it seemed like the end of the world.”

The athlete in everyone

Active people like Bartley can experience many physical setbacks: from traumatic injury, to injuries sustained during sports, to the gradual wearing down of the body. Whatever the condition, says Stanley A. Herring, M.D., Res. ’82, medical director of UW Medicine Sports, Spine & Orthopedic Health, the UW Medicine Sports Medicine Center is equipped to address the problem in a cost-effective manner.

“Sometimes patients think that sports medicine means taking care of the Huskies or the Seahawks, and it does,” says Herring, one of the team physicians for the Seahawks and the Mariners. “But we think there’s an athlete in everyone. The same principles of comprehensive diagnosis and treatment that focus on restoration of function apply not only to elite athletes, but also to all people who want to be active.”

In Bartley’s case, that treatment included spine surgery a year after the accident to remove a disc. “It was overnight relief,” she says. Then her sports medicine physician, Mark Harrast, M.D., Chief Res. ’00, UW clinical professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, prescribed physical therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment plan to help her recover. It worked so well that Bartley was able to resume cycling, cross-country skiing and kayaking, among other sports.

“The care made it possible,” says Bartley. “It was invaluable.”

A new Husky location

This level of integrated sports medicine care is now available at the UW Medicine Sports Medicine Center located at Husky Stadium. With the addition of this new facility, sports medicine care is available in several locations: the stadium, Harborview Medical Center, Roosevelt and the Eastside Specialty Center.

Peter C. Esselman, M.D. ’86, Res. ’87, ’90, chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, knows patients will benefit from the new center’s exercise performance space. Physical therapists like Wallerich have much more room to treat their patients. And he, like Herring, is excited about the opportunities for collaboration at the center, where different specialists work under one roof — cross-pollinating research ideas and care options, working in tandem to train students and fellows, and, most importantly, caring for the people who need their help.

“The new facility provides terrific support for the team approach to patient care,” says Esselman.

A Running Start:
Screening young athletes at Husky Stadium

It’s deeply shocking and sad when we hear the news: another young athlete felled by a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in the middle of play. Shocking, but all too frequent. One in 250 high school-aged youth have a potentially serious heart condition at risk for SCA. And many youth are physically active.

“Our research shows that high school-aged students who are athletes are at four times the risk of having a sudden cardiac arrest compared to their age-matched student non-athletes,” says Jonathan A. Drezner, M.D., Fel. ’00, UW professor in the Department of Family Medicine.

Drezner is convinced that using electrocardiograms (EKGs) to screen teens is the key to improving heart safety in young athletes. Most young people with a potentially lethal heart condition don’t show the warning signs of SCA, so history-based physical exams alone are very limited. An EKG, however, is a simple, non-invasive test that can indicate a potential problem to a trained eye. Still, he has a caution.

“The interpretation of the EKG isn’t simple,” says Drezner. Physicians have to be trained to differentiate the truly abnormal — a reading that indicates a cardiac disorder may be present, for instance — from readings that simply indicate a strong, athletic heart.

Working with the Nick of Time Foundation, Drezner and other medical volunteers have been holding school-wide heart screenings in the Seattle area and beyond for the past three years, screening more than 8,000 high-school students and student athletes. And the events show results. At a screening held last fall, volunteers discovered that Seattle-area student Will Recla had a heart murmur. Further testing showed that the young runner had a faulty heart valve and a damaged aorta. The aorta could have ruptured; if it had, the incident probably would have been fatal. Today, after open-heart surgery, Recla is back on the track.

With the opening of the newest UW Medicine Sports Medicine Center located at Husky Stadium, Drezner and his colleagues are opening another avenue of care for families like Recla’s: the Sports Cardiology Program. “With the launch of the program, we want to offer this advanced heart screen to any kid at any time,” he says.

Recla’s story is a good reminder of the importance of expert care and follow-up. “He had a finding, a heart murmur…that I think most physicians could hear,” says Drezner. “What a physician does next matters.”

At a Glance:
The New UW Medicine Sports Medicine Center at Husky Stadium

Features 30,000 square feet — 10,000 dedicated to sports performance and physical therapy — under Husky Stadium’s south grandstand

Services and specialties
Includes orthopedic surgery, rehabilitation medicine, sports medicine, radiology, sports performance and physical therapy

Uses high-tech instruments for diagnosis and treatment, including ultrasound, electromyography (EMG), and an anti-gravity treadmill, which reduces gravity’s effects on joints during recovery and re-conditioning

Healthcare professionals
Includes professionals who are active athletes, medical researchers and educators, and physicians for Olympians and teams at the professional, collegiate and high-school levels

Provides a superb training ground for medical students, residents, fellows and other trainees and practitioners to learn about different specialties

Want an appointment?
Contact 206.520.5000

Optimizing Performance:
A team sport

New Zealander Bruce Twaddle, M.B., Ch.B., FRACS, is no newcomer to Seattle, having trained as a trauma fellow at Harborview Medical Center. Now he has returned, in part for the opportunity to work at the newest UW Medicine Sports Medicine Center located at Husky Stadium. There he will continue to explore two of his favorite topics: sports performance optimization and injured tissue, particularly tendons.

When Twaddle — a surgeon and professor in the Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine — talks about optimizing performance after tendon injury and recovery, he’s very interested in activity at the cellular level.

“How do we make that tendon cell want to be the best recovered tendon cell it can be?” he asks.

Part of the answer lies in changing the tendon’s cellular environment. “Rest is not the best way,” says Twaddle. Rather, exercise, especially exercising in water or with a low-gravity treadmill, helps speed recovery. Applying just the right levels of stress, weight and movement is also key, both for tendons and other parts of the body. And, as rehabilitation medicine grows ever more sophisticated, he and his colleagues tailor programs that take into account not only the athlete’s injury, but also their activity.

“You can use inventive ways to rehabilitate someone for a specific sport,” says Twaddle. The post-surgery program designed for a swimmer with a knee injury, for instance, would be distinctly different from that developed for a basketball player. The stress, the weight, the movement applied through therapy: all different. It’s a brave new world in sports medicine, one that requires collaboration.

“You have to get buy-in from the athletes and the athletic trainers,” says Twaddle. “They need to have a clear understanding of what we are all trying to achieve. Injury recovery should be a team sport, too.”

Connect With Us

Help us go green

Help us go green
Update your email address

Send a ClassNote

Send a ClassNote
Send an update

Write the editor

Write the editor
Tell us what you think

Make a Gift

UW Medicine UW School of Medicine

Box 358045, Seattle, WA 98195-8045 206.685.1875 |