It’s more than just an injury

Natalie Crane, 33, from Portsmouth, UK, moved to Amsterdam with her boyfriend, Shane, just over a year ago and have recently settled in Assendelft. They arrived after living in the Middle East for some time, and with Natalie as a primary school teacher and Shane as a boat builder, The Netherlands seemed to offer them the right opportunities to live together and continue their careers.
Natalie joined Amsterdam Netball within weeks of arriving in the city and has been a member for one year. Unfortunately during this time, Natalie sustained an injury in a match earlier in the year, which eventually required surgery. So while she takes the long and often boring road to recovery, she has kindly shared with us her account of how the injury unfolded, the various diagnoses and treatments and the eventual repercussions of dealing with such a setback that has impacted not just her potential to play netball again...

Joining Amsterdam Netball

I have to admit to a little bit of 'social media stalking’ of the club, as soon as I knew that I was moving to Amsterdam. Wanting to return to playing netball at a high standard, I was so desperate to be back playing the sport that I love and so a quick message to the Facebook page resulted in a lovely response, from Nadine, welcoming me down to a training session.

Natalie (back-centre) playing in an Amsterdam vs Utrecht match pre-injury

Injury Day

I arrived for netball on Saturday morning as usual. We warmed up and took to the court. I had been playing both defence and attack in preparation for the upcoming tournament in Stockholm. It was the third quarter and I moved from GD to GS. The ball made the way down court and across to the WA, who was in the pocket. As I attempted a pivot, to free myself from my GK, whilst splitting my legs in order to retain my proximity to the post, I felt a pop in my knee. I clutched my leg and fell to the floor - very gracefully I am told. I knew that I had injured myself seriously and dragged myself off court in order for the game to continue, as you do. Everyone around me was great and within seconds I had been lifted into a wheelchair to sit on the side-lines and watch the rest of the game. I didn’t want an ambulance, I just needed to get over the shock of the injury and so I went home. But after a few hours, the swelling was quite substantial and so I took a taxi to the local hospital.

The unfolding diagnosis

My initial diagnosis was a sprain or twisted knee but a quick X-ray just to be sure was carried out. All was clear and I was just about to be sent home when a last-minute phone call through from the radiographer suggested that maybe there was a chipped bone and that I needed to have a CT scan. But this also came back clear and so the original diagnosis was upheld. I was sent home with a bandage and crutches for a few days’ rest. But with little sign of improvement I had a follow up appointment with a surgeon and physiotherapist who were concerned by the swelling but happy that my knee was strong and stable, which would mean no internal damage. I was told to stop resting and returned to work.

Another few weeks went by and still little improvement, so I returned once more and was referred for an MRI - the machine broke the day of my scheduled appointment which resulted in a further delay of around two weeks. This then confirmed that I had indeed ruptured my ACL and torn my inner and outer meniscus, but as it was not severe, I would just need physiotherapy to regain strength. I did this twice a week for a month before being referred back to the surgeon as no progress was being made in my flexion or extension. They then agreed that I would need surgery if I was to return to sport and was referred to the Bergman movement clinic in Naarden. After an initial physical inspection, the doctor was satisfied that the visible strength of my knee and movement was excellent and surgery was not required. I asked for him to look at the MRI that I brought along, to which his response was ‘Oh shit!’ A month later it was surgery day.

According to Natalie, a slightly dazed hospital photo about two hours after her operation

Surgery and rehab

The surgery itself was simple, or so the doctor says. I have had my ACL replaced with a hamstring graft and the meniscus removed or reattached. It took about an hour and a half to complete. I should be walking without crutches after 6 weeks, back to exercise in a few months and if I am lucky back to sport in 9 months.

Physically the recovery is tough, but mentally the recovery is tougher. I don’t like sitting still and am not the most patient person, but regular exercises, periods of elevation and icing all take perseverance and dedication. I can move around on crutches, but without my backpack, I can’t carry anything so it can be incredibly frustrating to try and complete the simplest of tasks. Thank goodness for Netflix! A few weeks on and I am moving around more confidently but still dedicating a lot of time each day to rehabilitation. I have been off work for the start of the school term which is extremely hard, I love my job and can’t wait to be back in the classroom. As someone so independent, it has been difficult to ask for help, yet Shane has had to do almost everything for me. Along with moving house the week after surgery, he has been a very busy man, for which I am very thankful.

Natalie and Shane moving into their new house one week after Natalie's surgery

Healing goals

My short-term goal is quite simple and that is to get back to everyday life without any pain in my knee. Next step, will be to get back to exercise and lose the weight that I have put on as a consequence of being inactive and improve my general well-being. I have always enjoyed being mobile so just going out for a walk or a bike ride is an exciting prospect. I have already been cleared for cycling as soon as I am off my crutches which I think is brilliantly Dutch!

Long term, I do want to get back to sport and of course netball remains a real passion. I can’t imagine my life without it or the people who begin as team mates and end as friends. But in equal measure I am terrified of the consequences of injuring myself again. This has been the longest and most difficult six months and it's only the start. I have been very emotional and question whether if I take to the court I can risk going through another serious injury, as the impact it has on my life off the court has been substantial. I guess only time will tell what impact it has on my confidence as a netballer.

Physio at home - Natalie busy elevating and icing, whilst watching the Netball Quad series!

Prevention advice for others

ACL injuries are becoming more common in netball and so any injury prevention that can be done, should be. I personally think that this is the responsibility of the individual, although coaches can and of course do help guide this. You cannot simply walk onto to a netball court, at a high level, and push your body in a way that it is not regularly asked to. This is a lesson I have learnt as I have got older and wiser – a complete cliché but so true! Warm ups, cool downs, fitness and strength and conditioning of the muscles around the knee are all vital to reduce the risk of injury on the netball court. I have done a bit of research and reading around ACL injuries in particular and would recommend the Australian Netball Knee program (https://knee.netball.com.au/). It is worth ten minutes of your time as ultimately it just might reduce your risk of injury. Although even elite, well-conditioned athletes get injured too and each time we take to the court we have to accept that injury is always a possibility.

We wish Natalie well in continuing with her progress in gaining full functioning of her knee once again, and thank her for her time in sharing her story.

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