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Ava's Story

Achieving The Dream of Playing Division 1 College Hockey After Hip Surgery

For 18-year-old Ava Mcillmurray of Hartland, Michigan, a love of hockey ran deep in her family.

“My father is from Canada and my two older brothers played hockey, so I grew up in the rink starting at age two,” she says.

Ava says she really started getting into the sport at age 5 playing in mini leagues, and at the young age of 9, she took on the position of goalie and never looked back. Playing in the Little Caesars AAA Hockey Club over the course of seven years, her hard work and skill defending her teams led to several State Championships and a National Championship in 2021.

Throughout her years of playing hockey, she has not experienced too many serious injuries. A few knee injuries subsided with physical therapy, but after years of playing in her position as a goalie, Ava started to feel severe stabbing hip pain during her senior year of high school while playing in hockey leagues. After a State Tournament, the family decided it was time for her to explore treatment for the pain.

Finding the right match for treatment

Ava and her parents Raquel and Andrew started researching hospitals and physicians who could best provide treatment. They read about hip impingement surgery and treatment at Henry Ford Health for another female hockey player Kaley Doyle.

“When I read Kaley’s story, who is also a goalie, her situation was so similar to mine. After I saw that she was successfully treated by Dr. Lynch, it seemed like a perfect fit for me,” she says.

Ava was able to secure an appointment with T. Sean Lynch, M.D., who specializes in treating hip and knee disorders at Henry Ford. Dr. Lynch, a past competitive ice hockey player, is a team physician for USA Hockey.

Dr. Lynch explains that hip impingement is common in hockey players, especially goaltenders. There are high stresses that go across the hip, not only with skating, but also with a goaltender’s stance. This position requires the hips to get low by bending their knees and squatting down while the knees move inward. This causes the space between the hip labrum and femur to be physically decreased, and with repetition this can cause the labrum to tear.

He says like Kaley, testing revealed Ava had a hip impingement and labral tears causing injury to the hip socket. Her team had just completed their State Tournament and were getting ready for the national tournament a few weeks after her first visit with Dr. Lynch.

“We constructed a personalized non-operative plan to get her through the National Tournament. From there, we had about four months before she would be reporting to Lindenwood for her freshman year of college where the expectation would be for her to start,” says Dr. Lynch. “We operated on both of her hips at the same time to allow us to maximize her recovery while at home before leaving for school.”

He adds that the purpose of the surgery is to shave down the impinging bone on both the femur (“ball”) and pelvis (“socket”), as well as to fix the labrum back onto the socket. In the short-term, this helps to alleviate pain from the labral tear as well as improve hip range of motion to improve performance. Longer-term effects of the surgery are still being studied, but it is thought that by removing impinging bone that damage to the cartilage can be minimized which should stave off hip arthritis.

“Simply put, Ava is a warrior! After extensive rehabilitation with our physical therapy team at Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine she has started back on the ice following our progressive return to skating and goaltending program,” says Dr. Lynch. “It’s our goal that she will be ready for the beginning of her Conference season if not earlier.”

Final take home message

“Any athlete, let alone hockey players, should not be playing through hip or groin pain. Ava listened to her body and got the appropriate work-up and treatment for her issues,” says Dr. Lynch. “Although surgery was part of her treatment plan, we strive to maximize our non-operative care with any athlete which includes rest, activities modifications, anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy as well as possible injections. If any hockey player has hip pain, they should get checked out.”

After surgery, Ava prepares for Division 1 College Hockey

With successful surgery under her belt and months of physical therapy at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine to gain strength and get back in shape, Ava is continuing her academic and hockey adventures now at Lindenwood University, which offers a Division 1 women’s hockey program.

As she embarks on her college hockey experience and goal to be the starting goalie for Lindenwood, Ava expressed her gratitude for the Henry Ford sports medicine team that ensured her surgery was done quickly. She was also appreciative that the Henry Ford Sports Medicine Team was with her every step of the way in her treatment and recovery.

“I’m so thankful to Dr. Lynch, who put my mind at ease since this was the first surgery I ever had. He made me feel very comfortable with what was going to happen, and I felt very comfortable that he knew exactly what he was doing,” says Ava. “I’m also super grateful for the physical therapists who really cared about not just my recovery but my future to get back to 100 percent as quickly as possible.”

As for advice for other athletes who may require treatment and surgery, Ava says take the time to find the right fit.

“It’s important to properly research the doctor and treatment options and find the right doctor that you feel confident to do your surgery. That’s what I did, and it worked perfectly for me.”

If you’re seeking treatment for a sports injury, the experts at Henry Ford Sports Medicine can help. Request an appointment today or call (313) 651-1969.

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