Sports Medicine
Patient Stories | Erin and Cate's Story

World-Class Sports Medicine Care for World-Class Irish Dancers

Sisters Erin and Cate Stethem have been involved in high-level, competitive Irish dancing for many years. As in other high-performance sports, injuries are unavoidable. 

That’s why proactive treatment and specialized physical therapy are so important. Erin and Cate received both at Cincinnati Children’s after each sustained significant injuries.

Working with Kelsey Logan, MD, director of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s, and physical therapist Claire McKeone, PT, the Stethem sisters received coordinated care and were able to return to competition safely and successfully. 

“I feel strongly and passionately that Dr. Logan and Claire are an exceptional team,” said their mom, Tricia. “We are so blessed to have Cincinnati Children’s right at our backdoor.”

Erin’s Story: Initial Hip Injury and Finding Sports Medicine Experts

In March 2022, Erin felt her hip pop during an Irish dance class. Her mom took her to a doctor who said the injury was simply inflammation and assured the family that Erin would be fine. Tricia was a bit skeptical of the diagnosis and prognosis, but she trusted the doctor and allowed her daughter to continue training for an important upcoming competition.

Weeks later, Erin was competing at the 2022 Worlds competition in Belfast, Northern Ireland, when Tricia’s worst fears were realized. “I’m pretty sure that while she was on stage, [Erin’s] tendons and muscles ripped away,” Tricia said. “She couldn’t lift her leg.”

While still overseas, Tricia began calling specialists back home in Cincinnati to get Erin scheduled for imaging and consultation. 

After seeing a couple adult specialists who provided no answers or support, Erin’s pediatrician referred the family to Dr. Logan and the Sports Medicine team.

“She was the first physician to really stop and listen to Erin and what she was experiencing,” said Tricia. “She is extraordinary and very relatable for the girls. She empowers them in knowing their bodies as athletes.”

“At that point, I didn’t know if my dance career was over,” said Erin, 16. During that first visit with Dr. Logan, she was in a state of shock and worry, but Dr. Logan provided comfort, support and reassurance.

Cincinnati Children’s Expertise in Irish Dancing

The same day that Erin saw Dr. Logan, she was also seen by Claire, who had PT experience and expertise in working with other Irish dancers.

“When I first started working with Claire for the hip injury, she was understanding about what was wrong with me,” said Erin. “Claire Irish danced went she was younger, and she knows how hard and competitive the sport is.”

Not only did Claire treat the hip injury through PT sessions, she also designed exercises for Erin that focused on overall strengthening to help Erin get back to competing at a high level as quickly and safely as possible.

After seeing Claire regularly for one month, Erin was able to return to dance from the hip injury. She continued to see Claire for proactive check-ins prior to major competitions to ensure she had maintained progress and could compete without any symptoms or risk of re-injury.

Ongoing Expert Support

In March 2023, Erin experienced dance-related pain in her big toe. “She worked with Claire on shoes and padding, and tried lots of different things to help her pain,” explained Dr. Logan. 

“Claire brought in all these things—like her old Irish dancing shoes—to try to help Erin work through the toe pain,” said Tricia. 

Similar to the hip injury, as Claire treated the acute toe injury, she focused on fine-tuning the mechanics of Irish dancing to make tweaks that would reduce Erin’s risk for future re-injury.

“We have to be very nimble and focus on what the athlete needs right then, while also considering the ongoing mechanical stress to their body,” said Dr. Logan, who points out that most dance-related injuries fall into two different categories:

  • Acute injuries that occur during training or competition, and threatens to keep them out of competition
  • Chronic issues due to intense year-round training demands

Even though Erin no longer receives regular physical therapy, the family feels reassurance knowing that Claire and Dr. Logan are nearby. “If Erin feels something is off, her mom will email me for an evaluation, and she will come in for a check-in,” explained Claire.

Today, Erin is back at full participation, and placed in the top 10 at the 2023 Nationals competition. “The hip injury was a big injury for her to come back [from] and still be able to do what she loves doing,” said Tricia.

Cate’s Story: Ankle Sprains and a Broken Foot

As Cate was preparing for the 2022 Nationals competition, she sprained her ankle. Since Erin was already under Dr. Logan and Claire’s care, Tricia immediately knew where to take Cate for treatment. She competed in Nationals but re-sprained her ankle and was in a brace full-time while focusing on rehab.

She slowly progressed from weight-bearing to impact activity, and eventually to full dance participation as she prepared for her next competition. 

A few weeks before the November Regional competition, however, she re-sprained her ankle and was placed in a walking boot. Thankfully, Cate progressed out of the boot in one week and into her brace for dance. She was able to dance (with tape only) for the competition. 

Unfortunately, in December 2022, Cate fell during dance class and sustained a significant break in her left foot. She was in a cast for three weeks. She wore a boot, started physical therapy with Claire again and three months later she was back to dancing in tennis shoes.

Return-To-Sport Made Possible by Whole-Athlete Care

Cate, now 17, returned to competition by early June before dancing in the 2023 Nationals in July. She placed in the top 10.

“Along the way, we also managed nutritional support for Cate due to chronic muscular symptoms she was having in her legs,” added, Dr. Logan.

“What we do really well here at Cincinnati Children’s is that our comprehensive team cares for the whole athlete—and not just for the acute injury. Optimizing care of the whole athlete has been important for Cate.”

Caring for the whole athlete includes training mechanics specific to the sport, evaluation and recommendations on nutrition and psychological support needed for high-level competition. 

“We care for the big picture: what doesn’t feel right, how we can improve and what you need to do to be your best self,” added Claire. “We want them to be fully healthy dancers.”

“We have a group of Irish dancers whom we treat, and we are really lucky that Claire has expertise in Irish dancing,” said Dr. Logan. “This allows our team to be flexible, creative and successful in how we treat this specific group of athletes.”

Published August 2023