Labral Tear Surgery Gets this Ballerina Back on the Barre

Talin Kenar fell in love at 4 years old. It was the kind of love that put her into the zone while everything else faded to gray.

For most girls, it's a fantasy in the storybooks. For Talin, it kindled a lifelong commitment.

She'd discovered ballet.

"I loved everything about it"

Talin Kenar
Photo Credit: Debra Bona

"I loved the physical expression combined with the artistry," says Talin, now in her 30s. "I loved the music, the precision of technique … it just spoke to me."

That love flourished into an international career. She headed to London at age 16 to attend ballet school. She has since lived a whirlwind life of dance. A year in Hong Kong, another year in Australia and roles at prestigious dance companies were among her many stops.

Pursuing a professional ballet career is definitely not easy. The most obvious challenge is the physical demand. Injuries are common, especially since so much of the choreography for women in classical ballet involves stabilizing on the left leg and gesturing with the right, Talin explains.

"You don’t want to give up …"

In October 2012, the resident choreographer at her dance company - American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey where she lives—selected her for an enviable opportunity: a principal role choreographed just for her.

Talin Kenar and dance partner
Photo Credit: Debra Bona

The day before the premier at rehearsal, she poised for a move - and fell.

An unseen slick spot on the stage had caused her to slip, and the fall resulted in an ankle injury. Several days later, she noticed a vague twinge in her right hip. She ignored it.

"You get so wrapped up in wanting to maintain yourself in a ballet company," Talin explains. "You don't want to give up roles. You don't want to give up your status. You don't want to give up the few short years we get in this profession."

She danced on that aching hip for the full season and for part of the season after that. Gradually, the pain escalated from a whining nag to a piercing scream.

"Sometimes, it was really sharp if I moved a certain way," Talin recalls. "Sometimes, it radiated down my leg. I also was obviously compensating for my pain, so other parts of my body were starting to break down."

One morning in December, she was on her way to a ballet class. She had 10 more blocks to walk to the studio.

"I was in tears," she recalls. She stopped walking, surrendering to the pain. "If you can't walk, you can’t dance."

Instead of taking that class, Talin made plans for a trip home to San Diego. Her father picked her up from the airport and drove straight to the emergency room.

She was referred to an orthopaedist in California. But still hoping to salvage her dance career back on the East Coast, she searched for a surgeon near her home in New Jersey who could not only address her hip pain, but also get her back on stage.

She found John Kelly, IV, MD, Director of Sports Shoulder at Penn Orthopaedics.

"… Either that or stop dancing"

Dr. Kelly confirmed her diagnosis: mild arthritis and a labral tear in her right hip.

John D. Kelly, IV, MD
John Kelly, IV, MD

The labrum is a layer of cartilage that lines the hip socket to stabilize the joint. When it’s torn, certain movements - like raising your toes above your head - can feel like the joint is getting caught on something rather than gliding smoothly.

"Joint replacement was an option, but I'm really into joint preservation," says Dr. Kelly. "It was either that or stop dancing."

Dr. Kelly understood that for Talin, retirement was not on the table. They agreed that an arthroscopic procedure to repair the labrum and treat the arthritis would be best.

Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally-invasive procedure that involves inserting a small camera, called an arthroscope, into the hip joint to access and treat the damaged area.

"We just smoothed out her joint and took out some of the bone spurs that were causing the pain," Dr. Kelly explains.

"Zero pain"

Talin had the surgery in March 2014. "I know it's weird to say, but the moment I woke up, I felt I had been fixed," she says.

After several weeks of physical therapy, she was back at the barre. Soon, she was able to get through a full 90-minute ballet class. Shortly after that, she danced four performances in a full-scale role.

Talin now works as a freelance ballet dancer, opting to be selective about her roles rather than dive into the grind of dancing full-time for a company.

"Once you've been injured, it sets you up to be injured again," she reasons. "I want to protect my recovery."

Most importantly, she says, "I have zero pain—no pain whatsoever."

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