Athletes Put Knees, Wrists, Ankles in Surgeon’s Hands

Orthopaedic collaboration: Windham gymnast relies on her surgeon to listen to her goals

Reprinted with permission by The Union Leader

Samantha JexakMatthew HawkinsIn many ways, Samantha Jezak, a 15-year-old gymnast from Windham, is the poster child for injuries seen by orthopaedic surgeons in pediatric and adolescent sports medicine.

Dr. Matthew J. Hawkins of Essex Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Salem, which specializes in sports medicine and arthroplasty, has treated Jezak for various gymnastics and sports-related injuries since she was 9-years-old. Essex Orthopaedics’ focus on minimally invasive and arthroscopic surgery for shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, foot and ankle has proven to be the perfect fit for Jezak, who competes for Gym-Ken gymnastics in Windham and has suffered knee, leg, elbow, wrist, ankle, toe and thumb injuries. She’s not unique for athletes competing at the highest levels of their sport.

“Many of these are overuse and repetitive use injuries related to the intense training required for high level competitive gymnastics,” said Hawkins. “At this level, most athletes are training about 20 hours a week in the gym.”

And according to Hawkins, the importance of education on the need to intervene early and correct training errors and overuse cannot be overstated when it comes to both preventing and treating sports injuries, especially in younger people. “The pediatric or adolescent athlete is not a smaller version of an adult, and as such has unique challenges requiring appropriate modification of training and intermittent rest.”

Believing strongly that education is key, Essex Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine partners with Stop Sports Injuries ( and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) to educate parents, athletes and coaches on the avoidance of overuse injuries and sports injury prevention.

Despite her injuries, Jezak recently competed for Gym-Ken Gymnastics in Windham as a Level 9 gymnast at the Junior Olympics Eastern National Championships in Florida. She is a three-time State Champion and a three-time Regional Qualifier. “I think the most important things that have allowed Samantha to continue competing at such a high level are her dedication and commitment, a coach and family on board with the importance of intermittent rest and modified training, and early intervention to allow brief periods of rest and correction of training techniques to avoid longer periods of missed time and more severe injury,” said Hawkins.

The most severe injury Jezak suffered was an avulsion fracture of the inferior pole of the patella requiring a knee immobilizer and physical therapy, a vital part of the healing process, according to Hawkins. He said physical therapy plays an important role in the correction of biomechanical imbalances, strengthening, flexibility, and the prevention of further injury.

“Dr. Hawkins helps me return to my full potential after injuries,” said Jezak. “He helps me be strong and recover from my injuries and just have fun. I like how he relates to you and he really listens to you explain your problems.” Listening is particularly important in that Jezak does not simply want to return to a “normal” life, but instead, to a life that includes competing at the highest levels of the sport of gymnastics.

“Dr. Hawkins talked to me about my goals in recovery and really understood them,” said Jezak.

Hawkins’ knowledge of gymnastics is not surprising. He is the parent of two gymnasts who have approximately 10 years of competitive gymnastic participation. He has also served as a consultant for many area gymnastics clubs including Gym-Ken Gymnastics in Windham, A2 Gymnastics in Pelham, Spectrum Gymnastics in Londonderry and Phantom Gymnastics in Hampstead. In addition, he has treated gymnasts from approximately 20 area gymnastics clubs in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine and approximately 40 gymnasts who participated in the USAG Junior Olympics State Championships last year. This gives him first-hand experience as to the mindset of the injured athlete and the need to get the gymnast, family and coaching staff on board to make the necessary interventions to avoid compounding a minor injury through modified training.

“I understand what is involved in the training, the sacrifices these young athletes must make to train at this level, and the challenges in working through injury not only physically, but also mentally,” said Hawkins, adding that he has the advantage of working with a number of other orthopaedic surgeons at Essex Orthopaedics who he can call on for their expertise as they are all fellowship-trained and use the most advanced and effective repair and reconstruction techniques available today. Essex Orthopaedics’ on-site physical therapy team ensures that appropriate and effective care is ongoing throughout the recovery process.

“Dr. Hawkins helps you come back to the sport at a good pace, and because of that, when you do return, you do so stronger than you were before,” said Jezak. “Coming back from your injuries, it’s really hard not to be scared because you don’t want to reinjure yourself, but once Dr. Hawkins says you are totally clear, I can believe him because I know he really cares about me.”

It’s All About You

Essex Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine recognize your needs are unique. So is our practice. Click HERE to find out what makes us the perfect fit for your orthopaedic and physical therapy needs.