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Physical Therapy

Joel Marimuthu, supervisor of rehabilitation services at Huntington Hospital, and physical therapist Ada Kalmar demonstrate some warm-up exercises. Above, an elastic band helps to work on throwing mechanics and sport specific strengthening of the shoulder muscles. Photos by Joseph Colombo

Play ball, carefully.

An intervention a therapist would use for a patient recovering from shoulder surgery. Photo by Joseph Colombo

That’s the advice of area physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons as Major League Baseball returns with a shortened spring training.

Some of the less experienced players, particularly those who might feel they need to prove something each time they step on the field, are especially vulnerable to injuring themselves, suggested Dr. James Penna, orthopedic surgeon and chief of Sports Medicine at Stony Brook Medicine.

“You’ll see the experienced players won’t go through it [but] the injury rate among the [players that have been in the league] for five years and under will be higher,” Penna said.

The challenge for players, even at the professional level, is that their training strengthens their body and increases their speed, but it doesn’t help with the kind of urgency a game situation creates for athletes.

“They’re not doing stuff that’s high stakes,” Penna added. “That’s the real difference.”

Staying busy in leagues where no one is watching and then returning to the bright lights of Yankee Stadium or a nationally televised game can cause stress hormones like cortisol to increase.

“It takes three to six years [as a professional athlete] depending on the sport, where you start to get into a routine where it’s not all energy and angst,” Penna said. The athletes who do the same thing all the time won’t have any change in their bodies or their minds when they return to major league games.

Pitchers are among the most vulnerable baseball athletes, as they may try to stretch themselves out with too many pitches and too many innings quickly, said Joel Marimuthu, supervisor of rehabilitation services at Huntington Hospital.

Looking back at 2020, when spring training was also shortened amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of injuries increased, Marimuthu said.

“If the players are watching what happened in 2020, especially with all the increased elbow, shoulder, back, hamstring pulls, they’ll be mindful this season,” Marimuthu said.

Complete preparation for game situations includes a range of training and body conditioning and a gradual increase from working in a gym or on a field somewhere to playing in a game.

“You never want to go from 0 to 60 as an athlete,” said Marimuthu. “You want to come up to speed gradually.”

Training a range of muscles involved in different activities can improve strength and flexibility and reduce the risk of injuries, doctors said.

“We see the most benefit from athletes staying balanced,” Penna said. “If you work on a flexion activity, you have to work on an extension activity. As much as it’s become cliche, you have to cross train.”

Even if athletes don’t participate in different sports, they need to engage in activities such as yoga, pilates and lower body work to prevent injuries, Penna said.

Athletes at any level, who think they might have sustained an injury, run the risk of more significant damage if they play through discomfort that goes beyond the usual wear and tear from sports.

Physical therapists use the acronym PRICE as a guide: protect, rest and ice, Marimuthu said.

College sports injuries

The pandemic has created a similar situation for college athletes, who weren’t able to compete for varying lengths of time amid canceled and shortened seasons.

With fewer games and matches, numerous athletes got injured as they returned to
game action.

“We saw a very, very rapid uptick in injuries,” Penna said.

Athletes had higher injury rates in upper body, lower body and core muscles.

Sports hernias were also prevalent, as student athletes didn’t do enough dynamic exercises to strengthen their core and increase their flexibility.

For female athletes, the injuries to their lower extremities are “through the roof,” Penna said, including to the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. “The ACL [injury] rates among girls is bad.”

Penna urges athletes not to wear cleats on turf. Even though a sneaker might slip, and athletes might not be able to run as fast, they won’t likely have the kind of tearing that comes from a shoe that’s gripping the ground while the rest of the leg moves in another direction.

Coaches and trainers should “go to great lengths to make sure their quads are balanced with their hamstrings and their core is well maintained,” Penna said.

Young athletes in general ignore their core, which means more than just sit ups. Penna suggested they do more dynamic motions, like lunges.

Penna said it’s natural amid stronger competition for athletes of any level to push themselves to levels that might cause injury.

With so many experts available to help with sports injuries, injured athletes of any age and ability, from weekend warriors to high school and college athletes, have numerous places they can go for advice and care after an injury.

Marimuthu and Penna both suggested that the first point of contact should be a primary care physician.

“I’ve always felt comfortable keeping strong primary care doctors around to keep us honest,” Penna said.

By Anthony Petriello

St. Charles Hospital’s renowned rehabilitation department has a new second-in-command. Laura Beck, a current employee at the hospital and a Miller Place resident, was recently promoted to Vice President of Rehabilitation.

Beck will be responsible for overseeing both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for St. Charles as well as recently implemented programs geared toward sports medicine; treating lymphedema, a condition that leads to fluid build-up and swelling; and vestibular rehabilitation, an exercise-based program aimed at alleviating balance and gait issues.

St. Charles Hospital’s new Vice President of Rehabilitation Laura Beck. Photo from St. Charles Hospital

Beck has been working at St. Charles in various positions for 26 years, and she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac College, which is now Quinnipiac University. Her first position as a physical therapist was at St. Charles, and she returned to college and received her Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration and Policy from Stony Brook University.

“I am very excited for the opportunity,” she said. “St. Charles has an extremely long history, over 110 years, of excellence in rehabilitation that I am very proud to be a part of, and I am very excited for the chance to further our program, continue to grow, and continue the tradition of rehab we have had here for so many years.”

Beck has had served in many roles in her tenure at St. Charles. She started out as a staff physical therapist in 1991 and was promoted to a senior level physical therapist in 1994. Two years later Beck was promoted once again to supervising physical therapist, overseeing other therapists while still seeing patients herself. Beck started her focus on outpatient rehabilitation in 2000, when she was promoted to center manager of the Port Jefferson outpatient office.

Acknowledging her knowledge and acumen in rehabilitation, the hospital promoted her to director of Outpatient Rehabilitation, Pediatric Rehabilitation Services, and Offsite Contracts in 2003. In that position, which she held until just recently, she oversaw the daily activities of all nine of St. Charles’ outpatient rehabilitation locations across Long Island, which treat more than 10,000 patients every year, according to the hospital’s website.

Jim O’Connor, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer of St. Charles Hospital, was optimistic about Beck’s ability to fill the position and further the progress the rehabilitation department has made.

“There is a lot of opportunity to grow services … I don’t know that change is the word, I just think we have to continue to grow, stay current, and stay topical with evidence based practice.”

— Laura Beck

“Laura brings a wealth of experience to her new role for which her responsibilities include leading and directing all administrative functions of both the Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation Departments,” O’Connor said. “Additionally, she will provide leadership oversight in the development of short- and long-range goals for programmatic development and financial planning as well as recommend new or revised policies and operational procedures in all administrative areas.”

Beck said she is prepared to seek new opportunities for the rehabilitation department and work to update and improve the services that are already being provided at the hospital and at outpatient locations. When asked if she would make any changes to the rehabilitation department as a whole, Beck remained pragmatic.

“There is a lot of opportunity to grow services,” she said. “We are the only inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Suffolk County, so I think we have a lot of opportunities to grow and improve the technology that is available to our patients. I don’t know that change is the word, I just think we have to continue to grow, stay current, and stay topical with evidence based practice.”

Andrea Echevarria mugshot. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County police have arrested a Huntington Station woman for stealing $15,000.

Andrea Echevarria stole the personal identifying information of three people from customer records kept by her former employer, Deer Park PTDC, a physical therapy office on Deer Park Avenue. She used the information to open a line of credit, then used the line of credit for cosmetic surgery totaling $15,000, according to police.

After a nine-month investigation by 2nd Squad detectives and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, Echevarria, 33, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree identity theft and one count of second-degree identity theft. Echevarria was held overnight at the 4th Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Sept. 19.

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Paul Fick, center, poses for a group photo after the coin flip for the Major League Soccer game at Yankee Stadium. Photo from Liz Zarins

By Clayton Collier

Kings Park native Paul Fick has helped hundreds get “back in the game.”

This past Saturday, Fick had the opportunity to help 22 Major League Soccer soccer players get their game started with the coin flip at Yankee Stadium prior to the match between the New York City Football Club and the Montreal Impact.

Before a crowd of more than 27,000, Fick was selected for the honor by Coco Joy in recognition for his work with Back in the Game, an organization he co-founded that helps young cancer patients regain strength, balance, flexibility, and confidence in an effort to return the children to a condition where they can participate in sports and physical activities again.

“It’s really not about me at all,” he said. “I just have been the beneficiary of working with these children and getting to watch them progress through their treatment. It’s about the program; it’s not about one individual. I was the representative, but it was great to see Back in the Game get more awareness so we can help more kids throughout the area.”

Fick was also recently nominated as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year. Gilbert Salon, a volunteer for Back in the Game for the last five years, said the recognition is well-deserved.

“He’s been running that program for nearly 10 years,” he said. “His dedication, year after year, all the work he puts in, it’s really amazing.”

The program is run through Professional Physical Therapy in Garden City and is funded by the Miracle Foundation.

The idea for Back in the Game was started by Rob Panariello, a Professional Physical Therapy founding partner, and his friend Peter Menges. The inspiration for the program began when Menges’ son, Bobby, broke his leg on a relatively mild slope while skiing after doctors deemed him to be in remission from cancer. It wasn’t until after the fact that they realized that, while his son had responded to the treatment in getting rid of the cancer, his body had not fully recovered.

“His body wasn’t ready to go back to physical activities yet,” Fick said.

Paul Fick, a co-founder of Back in the Game, which helps pediatric cancer patients regain their strength, balance and flexibility, exercises with some of his young patients. Photo from Fick
Paul Fick, a co-founder of Back in the Game, which helps pediatric cancer patients regain their strength, balance and flexibility, exercises with some of his young patients.
Photo from Fick

Menges said at the time of his son’s injury, he realized that there needed to be a heightened focus on post-treatment life for children like Bobby.

“I think the disconnect was that the physicians were encouraged because the kids were responding favorably to the treatment and wasn’t that great, but what they weren’t seeing was a kid that used to participate in soccer or lacrosse or football, can’t even participate in gym class,” Menges said of his experiences following his son’s cancer treatment. “So yeah, they’re doing fine from a treatment standpoint, but they’re not doing well from a physical participation life standpoint.”

Menges said once the concept was organized, Fick was brought in to structure the program into what it is today.

“He was a real catalyst for taking the idea, figuring out how to make it work and bringing it to life,” he said.

To make the idea of Back in the Game a successful reality, the men presented the idea to Dr. Mark Weinblatt at Winthrop-University Hospital. Weinblatt’s endorsement was crucial to the program getting off the ground.

“Doctor Weinblatt was very supportive in recognizing the need for the program and referring the kids to us,” Fick said. “The trust that he had in Rob and myself enabled us to work with the kids. If we didn’t have that, it would have been very difficult.”

Nine years later, Weinblatt said the program is a terrific success.

“A lot of our patients, who really had a lot of difficulty in getting back to their usual routine, found it an immense help, not just in sports but in feeling good about themselves in day-to-day activities,” he said. “Walking around, going up stairs; the things we take for granted have been helped a lot by the program. They really do a terrific job with our patients.”

Through their work with the Miracle Foundation, the services provided by Back in the Game come at no cost to the families of the children recovering from cancer.

Though Fick doesn’t like to take any credit, Menges said the program, like Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium, couldn’t have occurred without Fick getting things started.

“Paul has embraced the concept and program from the beginning, and transformed it from an idea into a highly organized and professional program,” he said. “He is great with the kids and parents, and has continuously worked to grow and improve the program. His dedication and passion is incredible.”