After Maria Iannotti had hip surgery, she turned to physical therapy to regain strength and speed

By Kate Vander Wiede

Back when Maria Iannotti was a high school junior, the road to healing stretched out long in front of her.

After months of right hip pain, Iannotti underwent surgery in her junior year to repair cartilage in her hip, and was in need of extensive post-surgical rehabilitation. An athlete on the crew team at the Lincoln School in Providence, Iannotti wanted to start rowing again as soon as possible, so while her best friends and teammates headed to train after school each day, Iannotti headed to physical therapy. She struggled at first to keep a positive attitude.

“Though subconsciously I knew I would eventually get back to rowing, it felt like I never would,” recalled Iannotti, who is now 19 and attends Wellesley College. “I found it very hard to not be able to participate in an activity that had become so central to my identity.”

But at the East Greenwich Performance Physical Therapy practice, Dr. Yvonne Swanson and the team there turned what could have been an isolating experience into something more rejuvenating. Over the course of the year that Dr. Swanson worked with Iannotti, the staff and patients at the Post Road location became a kind of second team to the rower. Dr. Swanson helped guide Iannotti through the exercises and stretching aimed at increasing Iannotti’s range of motion and decreasing pain, swelling and stiffness. She brainstormed ways to keep Iannotti’s hip from worsening when she returned back to rowing: they switched which side of the boat Iannotti rowed on and incorporated specific movements in to exercises to help.

“Her determination was obvious from day one,” said Dr. Swanson said of Iannotti. “Because she gives 100% when she’s out there rowing, I wanted to make sure that when she went back out there, she was ready.”

And, after about seven months of intensive rehab and sport-specific training with Dr. Swanson, she was able to rejoin the Lincoln School’s rowing team.

Nowadays, she is a sophomore at Wellesley College, where she is pursuing a double major in biology and English, and where she rows on their collegiate team. This past fall, she even had the opportunity to sit in the stroke seat (meaning she was responsible for setting the stroke rate and rhythm) of a four-person boat in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, the largest two-day regatta in the world.

“It has been such an amazing experience, ” Iannotti said of her college career so far. “I have become stronger and faster than I ever would have predicted I would be able to be.”

 

 

In order to complete the volume of training required of rowing athletes, Iannotti relies on the techniques Dr. Swanson taught her to strengthen her hip muscles and manage flare ups, and she sometimes calls Dr. Swanson to troubleshoot issues that come up while away at school. It’s not always smooth sailing though: this past summer Iannotti found herself back in the office with Dr. Swanson with some left hip and left shoulder pain. Dr. Swanson quickly diagnosed her shoulder, noting it was likely irritated due to overuse – a common issue with rowers because of their repetitive stroking motion. Within a few weeks, the shoulder was back to one hundred percent.

While Dr. Swanson said that Iannotti’s “hard work and determination” were what gave Iannotti such success each time she came in, Iannotti in turn gives much credit to Dr. Swanson.

“She has provided me with the tools and the support network to stay strong and healthy so I can continue to row at my best for many years to come,” Iannotti said. “After the surgery in high school and having a period of time when I was unable to row, I am even more grateful for every day that I spend on the water. I honestly don’t know where I would be without my physical therapy experiences.”

 

Kate Vander Wiede is the communications specialist at Performance Physical Therapy.