Why I Stepped Away From The NWSL
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
I haven’t spoken about why I stopped playing in the NWSL two years ago, partly because I couldn’t explain what was wrong, and secondly, I held onto hope that I would get back on the field. The following is my experience with injury over the last two years.
During the 2020 Covid season, I started having pain in my right hip. I pushed through the pain for a while. By April, striking the ball caused intense, sharp pain, and I was barely able to lift my right leg after practice. The team ordered an ultrasound to look at the muscles around my hip, then an X-ray, an MRI, and eventually an MRI arthrogram. None of the diagnostic tests showed a reason for my pain. The team doctors recommended that I begin PT to strengthen my hip.
I started physical therapy, which focused on high level stability workouts to strengthen the muscles around my hip. These were very painful, and left me limping the rest of the day, following appointments. Trusting my team doctors and physical therapist, I stuck with the plan for six weeks. Following this initial 6 weeks, my pain had worsened, and I was no longer able to practice. At this point, I explained to my trainer that my treatment plan was only making things worse and that something needed to change. I switched to a different team physical therapist, and another team orthopedic physician re-evaluated my hip. The physician injected my hip socket and the new physical therapist began to use the Graston Technique, which involved breaking up scar tissue deep in my hip musculature, followed by forceful range of motion exercises. I was committed to this new plan for another 6 weeks. When I left limping and had trouble sleeping at night because of hip pain, I again thought the plan was not working and wanted to go elsewhere for my treatment. I was continually told I just needed to strengthen my hip and that any pain I felt was most likely residual pain from a back injury I had in college. However, I knew this injury, and the pain was very different.
It was now August, and I decided I was going to go back to North Carolina to work with a PT I had success with during previous injuries. I worked with my North Carolina physical therapist for a few months, using a combination of dry needling and gradual strength training. I did see a small improvement over the next few months. I was able to jog with minimal pain and I was sleeping better. I ended up moving to Memphis, and worked with a great physical therapist there for another 6 months. He looked at the body as a whole, and we did see some improvement in pain levels and strength in my hip. He encouraged me to get another opinion once we couldn’t seem to get my body moving dynamically without repercussions for days. We both thought there might be a labral tear that possibly didn't show up in my original imaging, especially when I discussed with him that my prior MRI arthrogram was very painful and required multiple attempts to get the dye into my hip socket. I then consulted another orthopedic physician in Memphis; he couldn’t find anything conclusively wrong with my hip either, even after performing another x-ray and MRI.
At this point I had seen 3 different doctors and worked with 4 different physical therapists over the course of a year. I accepted the state of my body as my new normal. They couldn’t find anything definitively wrong with my hip, even though my physical capabilities were 20% of what they were before preseason 2020. My hopes of playing competitive soccer, tennis with my family, or even just living an active lifestyle, had dwindled. I couldn't do any of these activities without severe pain. I let enough medical professionals tell me there was nothing wrong with my hip, that I started believing them. I accepted that I must not be tough enough anymore. I felt like I had lost the ability to push myself physically, even though I loved to train hard.
Not long after seeing the third orthopedic physician, we moved to Milwaukee where I stopped going to physical therapy, and started a desk job. Not being able to do the physically demanding activities that I had loved doing my whole life, or doing those activities, just to be followed by days and nights of extreme pain, was wearing on my mental health.
My husband urged me to go to the American Hip institute in Chicago. I was hesitant to go. Every time a doctor told me there was nothing wrong, it just invalidated my pain and was depressing. I didn’t want to hear it again. My husband was able to get me an appointment with doctor Domb, one of the top hip surgeons in the world; I agreed to go see him at his clinic, the American Hip Institute. I’m immensely grateful that he advocated for me after I had given up hope of finding a diagnosis for myself. The imaging performed at the American Hip Institute was different from the imaging I had in the past. They took significantly more x-rays and in positions I had never been put in during previous imaging appointments. Also, imaging was done with an MRI machine, specifically set up for optimal hip joint visibility.
When Dr Domb told me I had a substantial labral tear that could only heal with surgery, I broke down in tears, not because I was distraught about the injury, but because he proved that I hadn't lost my mind. He justified the immense pain I had been in for almost two years! Almost 50% of my labrum was torn off my hip bone, and I had prominent bone growths on my hip socket and femoral neck. This created an impingement, further damaging my torn labrum.
I had surgery; my labrum was reattached with anchors to the anterior portion of the acetabular rim, bone was taken off my acetabulum as well as from my femoral neck, and then the ligaments were tightened around my hip socket. I’m almost two months post op, with a 6-9 month recovery time, and my hip already feels better than it did before surgery.
The moral of my detailed account: you are your best advocate, and you know your body best, especially as an athlete. If something doesn’t feel right, there is most likely something wrong. If one or two or three doctors can’t find the source of your pain, that doesn’t mean that another doctor or physical therapist won’t dig deeper and be able to diagnose and treat the issue. As emotional and surprised as I was when Dr Domb told me I had a significant labral tear, he was not surprised at all, despite me sharing I had already seen three orthopedic physicians. He told me most of the patients he sees have consulted three or four doctors without definitive answers before coming to his clinic.
As someone who spent multiple semesters studying anatomy in college, I felt lucky to be able to understand the landscape of my pain source. Yet, I still walked out of multiple doctors’ offices thinking, well they are doctors so they must know better, and maybe it’s not as serious as it feels. As I looked back on my first consults, aspects of the medical care seemed off, but I didn't question the doctors or the process; I questioned myself. Just because a team doctor has been assigned to assess your injury, doesn’t mean their diagnosis is the only evaluation you can or should seek, especially if you don’t feel confident about their assessment. Second opinions and specialists exist for cases that aren’t clear cut. I’m passionate about this because I wish I would have continued to advocate for myself, and sought out a specialist so much earlier in my injury journey, as it would have saved me years of pain, sorrow, and frustration.
I’m not sure if professional soccer is still in my future, but I am filled with hope that my body will get close to feeling like itself again, and that I will be able to do most of the things I love and that bring me joy, pain free :)
-Morgan Reid Allen #27