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Mia’s Story: History-Making Cross Country Runner Runs Pain-Free

High school junior Mia has made history in her cross country career, but it’s been far from an easy road. Beyond the intense training, including running more than 50 miles per week, she was experiencing excruciating hip pain – the type that shoots through you then endlessly lingers and aches. Fortunately, she found the care she needed at UPMC Sports Medicine and got back to her record-breaking runs.

Making Cross Country History

Mia has been running since sixth grade and has improved with every stride. After having to drop out of nationals due to hip pain, she bounced back to have an undefeated junior cross country season in 2020. Not to mention, she also won the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Class 3A championship in Hershey for the second year in a row, finishing with a time of 18:28.

Since the PIAA began girls cross country championships more than 40 years ago, Mia is only the second runner from the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) to win back-to-back state titles in the largest classification. And it doesn’t stop there. Mia just placed 9th in a national meet in November and is always up for more competition and more opportunities to show the running world what she can do – including considering where collegiate sports may take her.

“Running is a huge part of my life. It consumes me a lot, but I have a very strong passion to run. It has shaped me as a person and become a part of me,” Mia says.

Treating Unbearable Hip Pain

So, what caused her to back out after qualifying for 2019 nationals in San Diego? It was the unbearable pain in her right hip, beginning her freshman year and steadily worsening, that just wouldn’t seem to resolve itself. December 2019 through the summer of 2020 had Mia continually searching for a real solution while attempting to continue running. She went from doctor to doctor, PT to PT, until she found Dr. Onishi.

“Nothing got my hip to where it needed to be up until that point,” says Mia.

Kentaro Onishi, DO, of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) and Department of Orthopaedic Surgery saw Mia and her mom at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township at the beginning of the cross country season. Diagnostic ultrasound helped him diagnose her with severe inflammation in the quadratus femoris muscle around the outside and back of hip that was due to a type of hip impingement. Dr. Onishi then administered an injection using ultrasound-guided injection. It was like night and day for Mia’s hip, and she was able to return to training within a few days.

Returning to the Race

Not long after the cortisone shot, as well as several rounds of physical therapy with Cara Troutman-Enseki, DPT, OCS, UPMC Centers for Rehab Services, at the same location – Mia was on her way to great success once again. She describes the PT as being “so different” than the PT she had tried over the previous several months, and that it was “tailored to [her] as a person and a runner”.

The injection option is ideal for runners who do not like to take much time off from training. It can help reduce inflammation in soft tissues like muscles and tendons, therefore reducing symptoms with minimal downtime.

“I’ve now had little to no pain at all, which is amazing considering that I was not even walking correctly after races earlier this year,” says Mia.

Dr. Onishi reevaluated her about eight weeks after the injection, and Mia describes it as smooth sailing ever since.

As Mia continues to train for a hopeful junior track season, and her senior cross country and track seasons to follow, Dr. Onishi stays in contact with her family to be sure she’s doing well and to offer words of advice as both a physiatrist and runner himself.

“Dr. Onishi saved my season. I’m so grateful that we found the right person to help me get back to running without pain.”

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