by Kate Vander Wiede

Three years after a skiing accident destroyed the cartilage under her kneecap, and after three bouts of physical therapy at three different practices, 12-year-old Avery Guck was still struggling with pain, using crutches and a knee brace to get around. An active swimmer, sailor, and competitive gymnast since age 8, Avery’s knee pain intensified with every growth spurt, stymying her about once a year.

With every activity causing her to feel pain in general, pain spurts coming often, and physical therapy not working yet, Avery’s mom Victoria Guck said her daughter was feeling “pretty defeated.”

“[The physical therapy practices we’d gone to] seemed like they followed a script instead of helping Avery with her own goals and end game,” said Victoria. After the latest pain flare up landed Avery in the emergency room, Victoria took to the internet, where she came across Performance Physical Therapy and decided to give a fourth place a try.  She counts her lucky stars she did.

From the start, Victoria said, physical therapist Dr. Kayla Whiting had a “totally unique” approach, using hands-on techniques, education and exercises to treat Avery’s knee. And, Victoria added, Dr. Whiting communicated, something that the other practices had failed to do well. “Kayla took the time to explain what was happening with Avery’s knee,” she said. Dr. Whiting use a physical plastic knee model and poster to show Avery how everything in her knee was moving and why the pain was occurring.

Avery’s goal for physical therapy was lofty: she wanted to be rid of the crutches and knee brace, participate in gymnastics on her birthday, and compete the weekend after in the State Championship gymnastics competition. That gave Dr. Whiting about two months to get Avery back up to snuff.

To do this, Dr. Whiting started working with Avery twice a week doing massage and knee mobilizations and gentle quad-strengthening exercises, as well as neuromuscular reeducation techniques, which included using kinesiotape so that they could track how the patella was moving during exercises; this allowed Avery to correct movement mistakes and “re-educate” the knee.

Within two weeks, Avery had made great progress: she was off the crutches and brace-free. In addition to hip and quad strengthening exercises, Dr. Whiting at that point added gymnastics skills exercises like balance, jumping and landings. Within just four weeks, Avery was back in the gym. Over the next four weeks, she progressed from floor to bar to beam to vault.

Dr. Whiting said that working with Avery was a joy. “She was always up for a challenge, and she always gave 100 percent,” Dr. Whiting said. “She always had a smile on her face even when doing her least favorite exercise.”

Victoria said this was because Dr. Whiting made each visit worthwhile and fun. She seemed to know exactly where Avery’s limits were, Victoria said, working Avery hard but never causing her pain. “Avery has no idea how hard she worked because it was fun, different, relevant to her sport and helpful,” Victoria said, adding that the clinic always felt friendly, not clinical, even when they were working hard. On Avery’s birthday, Victoria said, the front staff even yelled out “Happy Birthday” the moment Avery walked in and Dr. Whiting made Avery a sprinkle-covered cupcake.

On her birthday, Avery hit one of her goals – she could perform all aspects of gymnastics. The next week, at the State Competition, Avery hit her final goal: competing in all four gymnastic events – floor, bar, beam and vault. She not only competed – she medaled in two events, floor and vault, and earned her personal best scores on all four events for the year. She also finished the event pain free, iced her knee that night and was able to go on a walk the next day – something her mom says would have been impossible just a few short months ago.  Avery is even feeling well enough that she’s thinking of running cross country and track next year.

“Avery thought she would always have to live with the pain,” Victoria said, calling her progress unbelievable. “I am so grateful for Kayla and the entire team at Performance Physical Therapy that we have worked with. The experience we had at Performance was above and beyond anything we could have hoped for.”