Natalie Swords wouldn’t let pain slow her down. The Cherokee High School track and cross-country runner turned to an orthopaedist to find a solution. Diagnosed with iliotibial (IT) band syndrome and patella tendonitis, which both cause knee pain, Natalie’s orthopaedist prescribed a brace to stabilize her knee while running. The pain persisted, leaving 17-year-old Natalie and her mother, Dana Swords, looking for a permanent solution.
“She just couldn’t seem to get over her injuries,” Dana said. “It limited her ability to go all out. It really affected her.”
Dana and Natalie came to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Sports Medicine Running Program where David Marshall, M.D., and physical therapist Caroline Bradley, P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S., developed a plan to prevent, not just treat, her pain.
“It seemed like they were a lot more knowledgeable as far as her development goes,” Dana said. “They honed in more on the physiological aspect of the problem.”
Natalie, who ran about 30 to 35 miles a week during training, began therapy with a Dartfish analysis. This analyzed how her body moved while running and helped Bradley identify areas where Natalie could improve. From there, Bradley developed muscle-strengthening exercises, such as stretching and squatting, and helped the high school senior improve her running form. By strengthening her muscles and improving her running form, Natalie was able to put less stress on the knee, which reduced her pain.
Repeating the exercises at home was an important part of Natalie’s recovery. It was not long until it was apparent the therapy was working and Natalie no longer needed to run wearing a brace.
“You could tell she was determined to get better,” Bradley said.
Throughout treatment, Bradley taught Natalie how to adapt her pace and frequency so she did not have to stop training completely. Natalie did more than reduce pain; she actually took five minutes off her time.
“I have no pain in my knee at all when I run,” she said. “It has helped tremendously. I’ll be running injury-free this season.”
Natalie’s experience has inspired her to pursue a career in sports medicine, and the now 18-year-old also suggests the program to her teammates.
“I don’t think people my age are very knowledgeable about the exercises they should be doing,” she said. “ Children’s sees people like me every day, and that’s why I keep recommending the program.”