A Runner Gets Back on Track

Brad Frink is not a man who gives up easily. That’s surely what gives him the stamina to compete in ultramarathons, races that make a traditional 26.2-mile marathon seem like a jog in the park. So when recurring knee pain sidelined him a few years ago, he wasn’t about to back down.

Brad’s issue, iliotibial band friction syndrome (ITBFS), is a common overuse injury among recreational and competitive runners. Also known as “runner’s knee”, this condition happens when the iliotibial band, a bundle of thick fibers that runs from your hip to your shinbone and crosses your knee joint, becomes inflamed and tight after repeated use. The pain associated with ITBFS usually subsides with rest, anti-inflammatories, stretching and icing.

Brad had tried all of those things and more, including seeing multiple chiropractors, therapists, and doctors before meeting Kyle Hammond, MD at Emory Sports Medicine Center. Nothing had solved the problem or relieved his pain enough to allow him to return to training. “I visited several specialists who all gave me poor prognoses,” says Brad. “But I finally found Dr. Hammond. He and his team recognized that giving up running wasn’t an acceptable outcome for me.”

A Surgical Option

The surgical option for ITBFS is a procedure called iliotibial band release, which involves cutting out a section of the iliotibial band. This relieves tension and reduces the friction that causes pain. However, the need to correct ITBFS surgically is uncommon, and Dr. Hammond estimates he only needs to perform the procedure about once per year. “But Brad, he says, “is an outlier. He’s not most people.”

Together, the surgeon and the runner discussed the pros and cons. The argument for surgery was clear—without it, Brad might never be able to run without pain again. However, the cons gave both men pause: “Aside from the typical complications of surgery such as scarring and infection, there was the potential of it not working at all, leaving Brad completely out of options,” says Dr. Hammond. “While I wasn’t concerned from a surgical or technical perspective—I was confident I could perform the surgery well for Brad—I did have very little data to rely on since it’s not as common of a surgery.”

Procedure Yields Incredible Results

Despite any reservations, Brad and Dr. Hammond decided to go for it. And the results speak volumes:

  • Two days post-surgery Brad began rehabilitation to regain range of motion and build his muscle strength. He began a 3 day per week rehab routine.
  • Four weeks post-surgery Brad was running again and even completed a 26.7-mile bike ride. Four weeks later he was ready to race again!
  • Eight months post-surgery Brad raced an ultra marathon, running 66 miles. Not only did he win, his finish time tied for the course record.
  • Ten months post-surgery Brad completed a sprint triathlon with a personal best time and qualified for USAT-age-group nationals.
  • One year post-surgery Brad set his lifetime personal bests in the squat as well as 400 meter, 1 mile, and 5K distances.

“Miraculous might be an overly strong word, but my recovery was unbelievably quick,” Brad said.

While those are all important accomplishments, Brad notes that above all, getting to experience the joy of being active again—and the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing that happens as a result—is most important.

“The only regret I have was not having the procedure done earlier after suffering so long,” he said.

The 38-year-old is also quick to point out his gratitude not just for Dr. Hammond’s surgical expertise, but for the entire team at Emory Sports Medicine, including athletic trainer Megan East, who he says played a significant role in his recovery, continued motivation and overall positive experience. “They helped me every step—literally every step—of the way. I can’t recommend them highly enough,” he says.

Because when you’re someone who won’t back down, you want a medical team that won’t give up, either.

For more information about Emory Sports Medicine Center, visit emoryhealthcare.org/sports or call 404-778-3350.

Learn more about total ankle replacement

Comments are closed.