As a tight end for the Tier II National Championship team in the Women’s Football Alliance, Kim Kinsella tends to brush off aches and pains.
So Kim, 31, kept playing after she injured herself in early April 2016 while playing for her team, the St. Louis Slam. She figured she had a torn meniscus in her knee since she didn't exhibit signs of any other major knee injury. She underwent an MRI a few weeks later to decide if surgery was needed. To the surprise of Kim and the MRI technicians, it showed the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left leg was torn to the point at which she was essentially playing without one. The ACL ligament connects the thigh bone to the shinbone and helps stabilize the knee joint. She also was suffering from a grade three sprain to her medial ligament (MCL), which is located on the inside of her knee, along with severe bone bruising and swelling on the joint. Kim talked with her doctors and decided to postpone surgery until after the season ended since she wasn’t exhibiting knee instability common with ACL tears. Four months later, Kim and the Slam won the Tier II National Championship at the end of July.
"I had total control of my knee while I was playing," Kim recalled. "It was a bit of a shock to realize I was able to do all these things without an ACL. My doctor said that the extensive musculature in my leg and around my knee was keeping everything in place, so it didn't know anything was out of place." She underwent surgery on the ligaments Aug. 18, and left the surgery center on a set of crutches. Four months of therapy followed with St. Anthony’s Outpatient Sports and Physical Therapy Services.
"I think I used the crutches for two hours," Kim chuckled. "When I went to physical therapy for the first time, my therapists Krysti Eckert and Lisa Ahlers told me I was further ahead of where normal people are on day one."
"Krysti is a ball full of energy, super-bubbly -- she'll help you figure out why it's important to do what you need to do," Kim said. "It was fun to show up at physical therapy and shock Krysti and Lisa by showing how much further I was than where I should be on paper."
Kim's outstanding physical condition served her well during her therapy, said Krysti, who holds a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Boston University and has 23 years of therapy experience.
"Initially after surgery, there's a period of decreased weight-bearing activity," Krysti said. "There's a certain amount of swelling after surgery, so the knee can be unstable. Because Kim had such strength to begin with, she didn't need as much time of non- or limited weight bearing. Once they start bearing weight a little more, the initial goal of the weight training is to regain the range of motion, then move into a strengthening phase. You don't want to put too much pressure on the ligament as it's healing.
"She was very highly motivated: she would do everything we asked and then some," Krysti said. Kim's sessions began with closed-chain exercises such as stair-steps, and progressed to open-chain exercises such as leg lifts, advanced gait exercises, weightlifting and sport-specific drills. A state-of-the-art machine called a BTE Primus work simulator ensured the strength on the front and back of Kim's legs was equal, and that the knee was stable and supported.
"In my case, it was a matter of getting my leg strong," she said. "It was weird to have something taken away from you and reintroduce it. You're going to have pain in your knee until your work strengthens your knee. But all of a sudden I'm at practice, and I can do something as simple as high knees and warm-ups without pain. It's nice that you can see that fast of a turnaround: it's exciting."
A former Division I field hockey player and coach at the University of Delaware, Kim lives in the Kirkwood area. She now runs her own company, Kinsella Connections, where she works with athletes and their parents to help them navigate the recruiting processes of collegiate athletics. She also is back playing with the Slam, helping to defend its national title.