Patient Stories

On Pace for Ironman

sara moving after piriformis syndrome treatment

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Sara’s Piriformis Syndrome Solution

Triathlons shaped Sara’s life. She competed in her first Ironman in 1999, a year after marrying her husband, an elite triathlete in his own right who helped her learn the form. Seventeen years later, she’s still competing at the top level – seventh in the world for her age group – and has added coaching to her repertoire. Online and in-person, Sara works with athletes through her triathlon training center and store. She loves the sport, with the amount of time, effort and responsibility she invests, it couldn’t be any other way. Oh, and she’s the mother of three active children, too.

“I’m a mom, I race, I’m competitive. I slowly took over the business about four years ago,” Sara explained. She first met Jeff Senall, MD, and Steven Mayer, MD, both sports medicine physicians at Northwestern Medicine, through active connections with the training community. An easy referral for her athletes, Dr. Senall and Dr. Mayer have helped Sara with her own health, too.

Sara has had her orthopaedic stumbling blocks over the years, most recently with piriformis syndrome, a neuromuscular disorder that causes shooting pain in the leg, impacting the ability to walk, shift weight and maintain balance. When Sara saw Dr. Mayer, who specializes in piriformis treatment, she could barely run.

“True piriformis syndrome is rather rare,” Dr. Mayer said. “There are not many doctors who treat it.” He treated Sara immediately with a fluoroscopically-guided injection to increase accuracy in the correct muscle. She was pain-free shortly thereafter, ready and able to return to training – ultimately competing in the Ironman North American Championship and qualifying for and competing in the Ironman World Championship in Kona.

Northwestern Medicine provides Dr. Mayer and his team with the latest technologies for diagnosis and treatment. The convenience of everything in one location especially benefits the athletes, who are anxious to get back to their training. The board-certified staff has extensive experience covering a range of athletic levels, including high school and college, but in particular endurance teams.

“We have a special interest in treating endurance athletes, and we understand their unique types of injuries and the urgency for treatment to get back to training,” Dr. Mayer explained. It helps that he and Dr. Senall are both endurance athletes too. “We get what these patients are looking for and know where they are coming from.”

The impact of that shared understanding is strong: “I think the fact that they race makes their advice and their knowledge very specific and very helpful,” Sara explained. “I think they also understand the gravity. It’s really hard for some athletes to detach from competition, the significance of even a single race date. There’s a lot of momentum going into it and Dr. Mayer and Dr. Senall get it. I think they must have educated their staff too because they were all mindful of how we were going to get me better without getting too far off-track with my training.”

Sara’s first Ironman World Championship in Kona was in 2003 and she crossed the finished line with her children Charlie and Olivia – seven and 19 months old respectively – in her arms. She would have Andrew ten months later, settling into life as a mom and triathlete, then a trainer and coach, too. Ten years later, she’s finished her 20th Ironman, her family again at the finish line. Her piriformis in check and a physician never far away, she knows no need to stop.

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