Two injuries bench former football player – but not for long

Minimally invasive surgeries, regenerative medicine, rehab combine for quick recovery

Two injuries bench former football player – but not for long
Nathan Skelley portrait
Dr. Nathan Skelley

Twice in the span of a year, Josh Crownover had to deal with serious injuries that threatened to keep him from living the kind of athletic life this former college football player had come to expect.

The first time it was a nagging sore hip that needed to be fixed for him to get back to playing football. The second time it was an Achilles tendon tear that ended his senior season at the University of South Dakota and threatened his plan to be part of the Air National Guard.

In both cases, he had procedures performed by Sanford Health’s Nathan Skelley, M.D., with accompanying rehabilitation guided by the board-certified Sanford-affiliated athletic training staff at the University of South Dakota.

In the most literal sense, the Sanford team got Crownover back on his feet. His future career plans remain intact. Led by Dr. Skelley, the lead team physician for the USD athletic program, Crownover can thank a group of Sanford caregivers for getting him back to where he needs to be.

“The connection with Sanford and the University of South Dakota is absolutely huge and amazing,” said Crownover, who graduated from USD with a degree in criminal justice. “From psychiatrists to physical therapists to doctors to coaches, people are there for you 24/7.”

In a sense, the team that brought Crownover back to 100% included Crownover himself.

Motivated by athletes

Crownover paid attention, he followed the directions of experts like Dr. Skelley and remained resilient.

“One of the best parts of my profession and work at Sanford Health is I get to be motivated and inspired by athletes just like Josh,” Dr. Skelley said. “Josh encountered two very difficult conditions. He was met with significant adversity. Rather than let that get him down, he rose to the challenge. He excelled in the rehabilitation, and he’s gotten back to a phenomenally high level of athletics. And he continues to be a leader in his community and his professional work. That, to me, is extremely inspiring.”

Dr. Skelley and colleagues were recently nationally recognized for their work in establishing innovative solutions for hip procedures. A video they produced titled “The Peripheral Compartment First and Periportal Approach to Hip Arthroscopy” earned the Orthopedic Video Theater Award for sports medicine at this year’s American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons annual meeting.

Years of research to improve arthroscopic surgery went into the video, which illustrates the same less-invasive ways of performing hip arthroscopy that were used to aid Crownover’s recovery from hip impingement and a labral tear.

“We have the resources and the team at Sanford Health that were able to treat this pathology in a very minimally invasive fashion,” Dr. Skelley said. “Historically, this has been a very difficult injury to recover from. Patients are frequently on crutches for approximately six to eight weeks.”

Back to the gym

Crownover had his hip surgery on Dec. 20, 2022, and was walking around the house without crutches on Christmas Day helping his mother bake cookies. Six weeks later he was doing squat lifts in preparation for spring practice at USD.

“I didn’t take any painkillers partially because I don’t like them, but also, I didn’t need them,” Crownover said. “I wasn’t really in any pain at all. There was a little stiffness before going to bed but other than that I really didn’t have any issues.”

The story didn’t end there. After getting through USD’s spring practices without a problem, the linebacker went into fall camp at full speed. He was fired up about being a part of what he considered – and the season later confirmed – would be a much-improved Coyote team.

He developed soreness in his Achilles but was able to play through it in early practices. During a scrimmage, however, he felt a pop in his leg.

“I thought someone stepped on me, but no one did,” Crownover said. “I’m told a lot of people who snap their Achilles have the feeling that someone kicked them or stepped on them. I dropped to the ground and all of a sudden I felt like my foot was asleep.”

The Coyote training staff later confirmed what he had suspected. Athletic trainer Grant Rohrig, who has since gotten to know Crownover very well via their time rehabbing after the surgery, told him his season was likely over.

Another surgery, same surgeon

Crownover responded with the mental toughness that had marked his recovery from his hip injury. The rehab would be longer and the impact on his time as a football player would be greater but the person doing the surgery would be the same.

“Dr. Skelley gave us an option of another doctor for the surgery,” Crownover said. “I mean, it took two seconds for my mom and I to look at each other. We’re like, ‘No, we’re going with Dr. Skelley to have surgery.’ He made us feel very comfortable through the whole situation.”

For Crownover’s Achilles tendon procedure, Dr. Skelley was able to offer the latest technologies delivered by Sanford orthopedic specialists. These technologies were in part based on the same minimally invasive principles that aided Crownover’s efficient hip recovery.

Additionally, the procedure incorporated biologic augmentation, which involved using biological substances to accelerate and enhance the natural healing process.

“When we’re done doing the operation, it allows for a quicker recovery and that means a more satisfied patient experience,” Dr. Skelley said. “I really enjoy that we’re able to combine advances in technology to deliver that cutting-edge health care.”

The application of pioneering technology employed at Sanford for Crownover’s procedures goes beyond hip and Achilles issues.

“We’re constantly pushing the envelope of trying to find better and safer ways of performing orthopedic procedures,” Dr. Skelley said. “We can translate that philosophy to other applications in the shoulder, the knee, the foot and ankle space, and the hand and wrist space.”

From football field to airfield

Crownover was the beneficiary of a collaboration involving Dr. Skelley and the Sanford-affiliated athletic trainers on the USD campus. After his hip procedure he wanted to get back to the football field. After the Achilles tear, he wanted to get back to what for him promises to be an extremely active life.

His immediate future includes working in the Air National Guard and enduring the rigors of basic training. Beyond that, he has plans to become a conservation officer, or possibly get involved in law enforcement. He would like to coach wrestling and perhaps even compete again as a wrestler.

Regardless of what exactly comes next, he knows now an Achilles tear is not going to get in the way.

“The team approach that Josh knew very well on the field, he was able to experience from a medical perspective with our medical team off the field,” Dr. Skelley said. “Similar to how athletes push themselves to be the best they can be in their athletic pursuits, our medical team is doing everything we can do to be the best in delivering the care to our athletes to get them back to the activities that they love.”

This mutual commitment to excellence is based on expertise and communication. Initially, Crownover got to know Dr. Skelley via the discouraging circumstances that come with serious injuries. They have since then made the best of it.

“The athletes I know at USD love Dr. Skelley and they love that he is part of the athletic program,” Crownover said. “It can be hard to make a player feel comfortable in a situation that can be super sad for the player, but Dr. Skelley finds a way to do it. He is able to make people realize he’s going to put them on a good path to recovering.”

Posted In General Surgery, Orthopedics, Sanford Sports, Sioux Falls, Sports Medicine, Vermillion