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Physical Therapy Gets Athlete Back On the Field

Cohen Gunn, 15, loves playing sports. So when a stress fracture in spring 2023 derailed his summer baseball season and a thumb injury in December 2023 threatened to do the same for 2024 spring baseball, Cohen knew he needed some extra help.

That help came through physical therapy with Jake Thompson, DPT, regional manager of rehabilitation services for The University of Kansas Health System in Great Bend.

"I was throwing while warming up for baseball practice and I felt a pop in my shoulder,” says Cohen, who pitches and plays center field. “It was really painful, and I couldn’t keep playing."

Angie Gunn, Cohen’s mother, took Cohen to see his physician, family and sports medicine specialist Tom Dagg, MD, after a couple of her friends recommended him. Dr. Dagg diagnosed the shoulder injury – a stress fracture in his growth plate – and prescribed rehabilitation.

"I’m glad I could help Cohen get the help he needed in a timely fashion," says Dr. Dagg. "My nurse, Jenny Parker, is outstanding at recognizing urgent needs communicated to her from the community, and this isn’t the first time her skill has resulted in better care for our patients."

Motivation drives healing

While Cohen was grateful that he didn’t need surgery, he did have to rest his shoulder before he could begin rehabilitation. Once he was ready for physical therapy, Cohen started working with Thompson, who is also Cohen’s pitching coach.

"I was worried with the shoulder specifically about Cohen being able to get back to playing baseball at all," says Angie.

But Cohen recovered fully thanks to his dedication to the physical therapy regimen and specialized
throwing program Thompson developed. Then, in December, Cohen was playing dodgeball when he broke and tore a ligament in his thumb.

Unfortunately, Dr. Dagg said this injury required surgery. Cohen had the surgery later in December and when his thumb was healed enough, he started a new regimen of physical therapy with Thompson.

"I was really motivated to get through all the rehab for my thumb so I could play baseball this year," Cohen says. "Jake gave me exercises to help me heal and get my strength back, like one that uses an elastic band for my thumb that I can do anywhere."

In fact, Cohen continued doing physical therapy exercises for his shoulder after his physical therapy was complete. He says the exercises using tension bands and weights are particularly helpful in keeping his shoulder healthy, and he’s had no issues with his shoulder this year.

"Even though I wondered a few times why I was doing this, I realized how much the therapy exercises have helped,” Cohen says. “When you’re doing physical therapy, don’t take days off and do all your exercises; otherwise, it takes a lot longer to heal."

Serious about rehab

Angie appreciates Cohen’s dedication to physical therapy and healing.

"We encourage him to continue doing his exercises so he can retain his strength," Angie says. "We want to avoid any more injuries if at all possible."

"Cohen had to face several instances of adversity, which is never easy as a young student-athlete," says Thompson. “His dedication to improve allowed him to play baseball this spring. Cohen is the definition of a competitor.”

That drive to compete means that Cohen takes his physical therapy and healing seriously. "Take your rehab seriously," Cohen says. "Caring for an injury and taking a break from sports – even though it’s hard to think that you might not be able to play again – is an important part of healing."

Angie agrees, saying, "Do your therapy and exercises, because healing takes a lot longer without physical therapy. Jake has gone above and beyond to check on Cohen and make sure he continues to do well. That personal approach is rare."

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