Grimacing, Holli Morrison steadies herself and takes a deep breath. She shifts her weight and tries to move her right leg over a few inches more, toward the pedal on the other side of the stationary bicycle.
Another wince, and she stops.
“Sorry, it’s just really...” she trails off.
Her physical therapist purses his lips and nods his understanding.
A Mental Battle
When it comes to moving your lower body, virtually everything requires help from your hips. Taking a step? You’ll need your hips for that. Shifting your weight while seated? Yeah, that’s mostly hips, too. Getting out of bed? Good luck doing that without your hips.
On the day that Morrison, 20, pushed herself through a basic workout at the Clinton Crossings rehab center, she was just three weeks removed from a two-part surgery that, in essence, totally re-made her left hip. A competitive dancer who is entering her senior year at The College at Brockport, Morrison faces an intense rehabilitation that could take more than a year.
The main thing she has going for her is that she’s done this before.
“It was definitely a mental battle the first time, because it meant I had to stop dancing. But I knew if I didn’t get the surgery done, I wasn’t going to be able to ever go back to it,” she said. “And this time, I know what to expect, so I’m going to push myself a little more.”
On her first go-round, four years ago, Morrison had been going through her usual dance routines when she felt something catch in her right hip. It was just a twinge at first — a feeling like her hip was caught on something when she’d stand up. But it worsened to the point of pain, and soon, she had to stop dancing.
Over the next few months, the discomfort got worse and worse, and eventually, she couldn't even sit down for more than a few minutes without having to shift her weight or stand back up again.
As the pain got more severe, she saw three different doctors before finding her way to Brian Giordano, M.D., at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Giordano, the co-director of the Hip Preservation Program — alongside Christopher Cook, M.D. — realized that she had a torn labrum, caused by a combination of developmental hip dysplasia and heavy wear-and-tear from years of dancing.
“Holli was competing at a very high level, there was no way she was going to be able to push through that kind of pain,” said Giordano. “Without a surgical intervention, she wasn’t going to be able to dance again.”
To get Morrison’s hip healthy again, Giordano and Cook collaborated on a two-part procedure: First, Giordano performed an arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn labrum and address various issues inside the joint, and then Cook performed a pelvic reorientation surgery, which requires several cuts into the hip bones and a rotation of the hip socket so it aligns with the ligament and tendon.
“Clinically, the surgery went very well,” said Cook. “But for Holli — and for anyone who wants to dance or play any sport with the same rigor as before — the surgery is really the easy part. Rehab is a long, long road.”
Road to recovery
Morrison’s road started with some basic physical therapy. She was on crutches for three months, a challenge exacerbated by the fact that she was in the midst of her sophomore year of high school; her classmates had to carry her books around.
Once her incision healed, she was able to move on to aquatic therapy. Throughout the process, she continued to work hard, educating herself on her condition and the fastest path to recovery.
“The doctors were amazing,” she said. “They were so receptive to all my questions. They listened, and they answered everything — they never make you feel like you’ve got to rush out of your appointment.”
After about 5 months, she was able to start jogging, and after 8 months, she returned to dancing. But it wasn’t easy, at first.
“That was a mental struggle too, because you go back and your body isn’t quite the same,” she said. “That’s where you really have to work to get back to what you were doing before.”
It took a little over a year from the date of the surgery to get to that point. But once Morrison was there, she quickly returned to her peak.
“She’s incredible,” said Kelly Adler, A.T.C., who works alongside Giordano and Cook in the Hip Preservation Program. “If someone told me that I’d need this much rehab, I don’t know if I could do it.”
A familiar trial
As she recovered from her first injury, Morrison was warned that she’d likely need the same procedure on her left hip at some point in the future, especially if she continued to dance at a high level. But returning to dance was the whole point of the operation to begin with, so Morrison pushed on, undeterred. And when the time came four years later, she was ready.
Back at the rehab center, her left hip having undergone the same surgery as her right, Morrison steels herself once more. With the encouragement of her physical therapist, she finally shifts over on the stationary bike and reaches the other pedal. It took nearly 2 minutes to get on the bike, but now, she’s ready.
Morrison starts to pedal. Her face still carries a determined look. But now, behind it, there’s a smile.