New operating table helps swimmer return to the fast lane

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COLUMBIA (NBC News) — For the past decade, Madeleine Gehrke has been proving people wrong in the pool.

“They actually tried to kick me off the Y team. They were like, ‘This girl – not a swimmer,’” Gehrke said.

Despite some early skeptics, Gehrke landed a scholarship and spent three years swimming for the University of Missouri. She was forced to stop, though, when the pain in her hips became unbearable.

“I seriously could not even walk to the grocery store, which is like two blocks away from my house, without being in a lot of pain,” Gehrke said.

The problem was femoroacetabular impingement, or FAI, which caused the bones in Gehrke’s hip joint to hit each other when she moved. FAI is likely caused by genetics and aggravated by repetitive motion. Fixing the problem requires a surgery called hip arthroscopy.

Gehrke had the surgery on her left hip, but afterward, dealt with numbness in her leg. Numbness is a common side effect of the procedure that is caused by the traditional operating table, which uses a post between the patient’s legs.

“That creates a lot of pressure, a lot of discomfort for the patients, and there’s a risk of soft tissue injury, nerve damage, urinary dysfunction or sexual dysfunction,” said Nathan Skelley, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist.

When Gehrke faced a second surgery on her other hip, though, there was a new option at MU Health Care’s Missouri Orthopaedic Institute – a post-less traction table.

“We’re able to tilt the table so that their weight distracts the joint, and we no longer need to use a post,” Skelley said. “It’s a much safer surgery. It’s a much more pain-free surgery for the patients, and they recover more quickly.”

Gehrke experienced no numbness after her second surgery. Although her competitive swimming career is over, she’s back in pool and says she’s no longer slowed down by pain.

To learn more about hip arthroscopy, as well as other treatments for hip pain, visit MUHealth.org.

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