Though there were several rehabilitation facilities near Hartwell’s Lansing, Kansas home, he chose Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine at Village West, a 13,000-square-foot gymnasium with state-of-the-art equipment, including an anti-gravity treadmill.
“Village West is about a 30-minute drive for me, but the facility and the staff are stellar!” Hartwell said. “They have everything you need there for physical therapy.”
Also critical to Hartwell’s rehabilitation was, Michael Denning, DPT, CSCS, sports physical therapist at Village West. An experienced therapist who has helped hundreds of patients, he knew the challenges his patient would face as a wrestler, because Michael had wrestled himself.
“I didn’t wrestle at the level Hartwell does, but I really enjoyed wrestling and I respect the sport,” Michael said. “I know the body mechanics, and understand how intense the training can be. This allowed me to develop a program that was specific to helping Hartwell recover from his ACL injury so he could achieve his goals.”
Highly motivated to get back on the mat for his senior wrestling season, Michael said his patient was focused and a hard worker.
“Hartwell was always looking for the next step in his rehab, and he did his physical therapy homework. He asked me to make his therapy more difficult. That attitude made his rehab go very smoothly. We didn’t have the usual hiccups, like pain or swelling difficulties along the way, because he was such a diligent patient,” Michael said.
Initially, Hartwell’s biggest challenge was regaining the flexion in his left knee. Flexion occurs in the joint when two bones move closer together. When the bones move farther apart, the joint is in extension.
“Most people can function well with 120 degrees of flexion in their knee, but a wrestler needs about 150 to 160 degrees in order to be effective,” Michael explained.
To reach that goal, Michael used wrestling-specific exercises and stretches to get Hartwell’s knee back to the high level of range a wrestler needs.
Hartwell not only did traditional therapy-based exercises initially, but his therapist also utilized blood flow restriction training, or BFR, to help regain full use of his left leg.
BFR training involves wrapping a restrictive device, similar to a large blood pressure cuff, around a limb during different forms of training and movement. Studies show BFR increases muscle growth when combined with low-load lifting.
“By using BFR, you get similar benefits to the muscles that you would from heavy lifting and strength training,” Michael said. “It stresses the muscles so they get stronger, but protects the joints. This technique helped Hartwell recover quicker.”
Hartwell agreed. “The first three weeks of rehab were tough, but I knew I had to keep going and it would get better. After BFR, my left leg felt stronger than my right. It really helped.”
Hartwell also used the hydrotherapy pool; the anti-gravity treadmill, which uses NASA-developed technology to unweight patients, reducing the impact on their joints while walking or running during rehab; and portable wrestling mats to practice scrambling and sprawling.
All were important and helped to improve Hartwell’s strength, balance and stance, key skills for a highly competitive wrestler.
As his rehabilitation progressed, Michael used a small platform with cords similar to bungees attached to it so Hartwell could move freely to work on resistance training specific to his sport. Called the VertiMax, this piece of equipment helped improve how effectively Hartwell could shoot in to take his opponent down.
About 20 weeks after surgery, Michael said he remembered Hartwell telling him, “My leg feels really good. I will be going back to state!”