Helping a dancer get back to her splits

Posted: Mar 21,2023

Meet the physicians on the sports medicine team at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center who helped a young dancer get rid of knee pain after an injury.

Three years ago, Mia Peterson was sitting in a jazz split, stretching her hip flexor area, when she felt a pop on the inside of her right knee.

Peterson, a high school sophomore at the time, had been dancing for about a year then, including hip hop, contemporary, and jazz.

“I pushed through the pain for about a year, and I tried to ignore it because I thought it would get better,” she said. “But it didn’t.”

Peterson’s primary physician suggested she consult with Jovauna Currey, MD, a sports medicine physician with a subspecialty in performing arts and dance medicine. Currey is part of the sports medicine team at the Santa Rosa Medical Center, which also includes physicians Todd Weitzenberg, MD, and Shawn Hsieh, MD.

The pain meant Peterson couldn’t perform certain dance moves, including one in which a leg is lifted high up to the side by the ear – a move that was part of her solo performances.

“Dancers feel it in their body when even the smallest thing is off,” said Currey, who has studied ballet since she was 2 and is a dancer herself. “That’s because they have to go to such extremes with their body because of the choreography.”

Back to doing what she loves

After examining Peterson’s knee with an ultrasound machine in February of 2021, Currey saw scar tissue and swelling in the spot where Peterson was experiencing pain. Currey suggested prolotherapy, a procedure where a mixture of dextrose and saline is injected into the tissue causing an inflammatory reaction and helping the ligaments start healing again properly.

Peterson agreed to the procedure while on summer break from school. After the injection, she underwent physical rehabilitation for 6 weeks with 2 physical therapists, one of whom had extra training in dance medicine.

Today, Peterson’s injury is completely healed. She is now a freshman at North Carolina State University, minoring in contemporary lyrical dance. She can comfortably do splits and other dance moves she couldn’t perform before due to the pain.

“It felt so relieving to finally be able to do what I love without pain,” Peterson said. “Dr. Currey was really helpful. It was super easy talking to her and going through the whole process.”

The Santa Rosa sports medicine team

As part of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department, Currey, along with her colleagues Weitzenberg and Hsieh, treats athletes and professional dancers in the area like Peterson every day. The trio works closely with orthopedic surgeons and physical therapy specialists at the medical center.

The Santa Rosa sports medicine clinic was first created in 2005 and is the oldest in Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Weitzenberg said.

Weitzenberg, who specializes in the spine and biomechanics of overuse injuries, is a former bicycle racer and sees a lot of patients who are cyclists.

“It helps you connect with the patient if you do what they do,” Weitzenberg said.

Hsieh specializes in ultrasound-guided injections and regularly conducts regional musculoskeletal ultrasound training. He also teaches new family medicine doctors how to address knee and back pain as part of a Santa Rosa residency program.

“We all bring unique traits to our practice, and we support each other and try to capitalize on our strengths to the benefit of our patients,” Weitzenberg said.

For more information, visit the Santa Rosa Medical Center’s sports medicine team’s website.