A Safe Return to Competition



All summer long, Michael Herzog dreamed of the day he’d be back on the football field, of the feel of holding the ball in his fingers after the snap.

The dream was more than just a wistful look ahead for the 17-year-old Detroit Lakes player. The athletic standout had his hopes of playing quarterback during his junior year put on hold during one brief moment in a January 2012 basketball game.

Michael went up to block a shot and heard a “pop” and then felt the excruciating pain of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine team not only repaired Michael’s torn ACL but also helped him return this fall safe and strong with the Return to Performance program.

“I love playing football,” says the junior starting quarterback for the Detroit Lake Lakers. “I knew we were going to have a great season and I wanted to be part of it.”

A serious injury

The athlete, who plays varsity basketball, football and golf, knew something was seriously wrong when he hurt his left knee during that basketball game. As he lay on the ground, dealing with the pain, he imagined his football coach “yelling at me for doing something stupid,” he says with a laugh.

An MRI soon confirmed his fears. Michael had torn the ligament that connects two key bones in his left knee. The teen said his family chose to consult with Sanford orthopedic surgeon Dr. Matthew Friederichs because of his reputation.

The young athlete said he will always remember the surgeon’s explanation of the procedure and follow-up therapy at hand. Dr. Friederichs told Michael that the goal was not to build a knee that would last him a sports season, but instead to rebuild his knee for a lifetime.

“We try to provide the best orthopedic care for every patient, from the professional athlete to the high school player to those who just like to lead active lifestyles,” says Dr. Friederichs. “We were going to do everything we could to make sure that Michael was fully ready not only to get back on the playing field, but to have a great knee for years to come.”

His first steps

A few weeks later, Michael underwent surgery to reconstruct the torn ACL. For the next three months, he would work with physical therapist Brenda Muckenhirn in Detroit Lakes.

Physical therapy started just three days after his surgery, helping him regain a full range of motion in a careful way while the graft in his knee was still healing. The young athlete also worked out several times a week at the high school with Michelle Sonnenberg, a Sanford athletic trainer, Brenda says.

As both a physical therapist and a parent of a child who has gone through a ACL injury, she was empatheic about how difficult and frustrating the injury and rehab can be for a teen.

“For a kid at that time in their life, sports is often the most important thing to them,” Muckenhirn says. “Michael had a great attitude. He was ready to work hard.”

For the active teen, it was a welcome return to activity. Michael said the surgeon told him to expect it to take as long as nine months to get back to normal – an amount of time that seemed like a lifetime to the then high school sophomore.

“The hardest part is that you have to start out at such a minimal level,” says Michael. “All your friends are playing sports, and you’re tired of sitting at home.”

He went from regular physical therapy to sport-specific sessions as part of the Return to Performance program at Sanford POWER in Fargo, making it his goal to get back on the field earlier. Working hard two times a week, he trained with exercise physiologist Al Kraft to both build back his strength and endurance and to learn new movements to help prevent future injury.

Kraft used the latest sports science to train Michael to move efficiently and safely. Michael told Kraft that spending his summer at Sanford POWER was his “job” for the summer.

“He was one of those athletes who wanted to push harder, to even do too much too soon,” says Kraft. “We just worked it gradually, adding a little bit more and a little bit more until he was ready to get back out there.”

Hard work paying off

In May, Michael got the clearance to join the Detroit Lakes golf team. His school’s team won the state tournament and he even placed seventh in the state with his individual score.

After training with Kraft all summer, Michael was evaluated in the program’s Return to Play Evaluation, an assessment that uses a series of motor skill tests captured by high-speed video cameras. When Dr. Friederich reviewed the results, which objectively quantified Michael’s risk of re-injury, the doctor gave Michael the go-ahead to start football practice in August.

“When he said I was ready to go, it made it all worth it,” says Michael. “I learned through all of this that I have to hold myself accountable, that no one else could do it for me.”

Michael is looking forward to a great season as quarterback. His long-term goal is to earn a college scholarship in football or golf. None of these things would be possible without the help of Sanford surgeons and physical therapists, he says.

“I wouldn’t be playing today without them,” he says.

Posted Date: October 2012

A Safe Return to Competition

High school football standout Michael Herzog could feel his dreams slipping away when he snapped a ligament in his knee last winter. Learn how Sanford Health surgeons, physical therapists and the Return to Performance Program helped this young athlete safely get back into competitive shape.