Helene treats most injuries related to the foot and ankle, and San-Mari is passionate about orthopaedic rehabilitation.
Helene’s career journey really started in matric. She loved sport. So, when a sprained ankle stopped her athletic performance in its tracks (momentarily), she developed a keen interest in treating sports-related injuries and decided to study physiotherapy.
Helene graduated top of her class in 1984 from the University of the Free State. Her first few years were spent at working at the Conradie Spinal Unit where she engaged with the needs of disabled sports. She describes this experience as “the most incredible, enjoyable years of my early working career”.
In 1990 she took a year off work to complete her BSc Med Hons (Sports Science) at the University of Cape Town (UCT). While working on her honours she volunteered at Sport Injury Centre (SIC), and was delighted when her application to work at and manage the SIC was successful in 1991.
The SIC’s great reputation is testimony to Helene’s determination to change the centre into a well-recognised sports practice, opening its doors to UCT alumni and the public. It was a practice with a great multi-disciplinary approach based on evidence-based treatments.
In 1997, Helene privatised the practice, which became known for its comprehensive treatments, outstanding physiotherapists and biokineticist, vibrant atmosphere and excellent collaboration with top medical colleagues: surgeons, sports physicians, podiatrists, orthotists, biokineticists at other venues, coaches, and trainers. It was a place that welcomed all athletes.
The next phase
Helene now practices from her home in Rosebank where she focuses on complex foot and ankle cases – her true passion. She continues to present courses, both online and in person. She continually grows her knowledge by attending the myriad of online webinars and conferences on her favourite joint – the ankle!
A focus on the foot and ankle
UCT campus and student activities ‘generate’ many ankle injuries – and Helene soon realised her limited understanding in managing the complexities of the foot-ankle structure. Being a keen reader/researcher, she scoured the literature for evidence-based guidelines, communicated with clinical experts and attended orthopaedic lectures and workshops related to the foot and ankle. She was intrigued and excited about this new focus within her career.
Helene completed her MSc Physiotherapy at University of Stellenbosch (cum laude) in 2013 – the topic of her thesis being ‘Physiotherapeutic Management of Acute Ankle Sprains: A survey of clinical practice in the Western Cape and comparison thereof to evidence-based guidelines’. It was published in 2014.
Since 2015, Helene has been invited to attend congresses arranged by the South African Foot Surgeons Association (SAFSA), of which she is a full member. She enjoys the multi-disciplinary interaction – and presents instructional lectures on the topics like: ‘Should I treat the ruptured Achilles conservatively?’, ‘Update on ankle rehabilitation’, ‘Treating adult acquired flat foot and managing ankle fractures post-surgery and ‘Managing CRPS in the ankle foot complex’.
Her approach to ankle-foot complaints of a chronic nature has been influenced by attending workshops presented by the South African Train Pain Academy – which offered her new insights and has improved the outcomes of many “problem” ankles.
A career highlight was an invitation from ICCRA – an international society comprising a multi-disciplinary group of medical experts with a special interest in cartilage injuries of the ankle – to participate as a clinical expert physiotherapist at their consensus meeting where they drew up guidelines on how to manage ankle cartilage injuries.
She attended her first ICCRA Consensus Meeting in Pittsburgh, USA, in 2017 and again in 2019 at their meeting in Dublin. In Dublin she presented a paper on the benefits of “Early weight bearing after injuring cartilage of the ankle joint.”
She contributed to a paper: ‘Post-treatment follow-up, imaging and outcome scores: Proceedings of the International Consensus Meeting on Cartilage Repair of the Ankle, Foot Ankle International,’ (Vol 39, Issue 1 Supplement July 2018).
Helene was fortunate to present many online courses during 2020 – 2022, both international and local, not just to physios, but sports physicians, orthopaedic surgeons and podiatrists.
“I love my career: the interaction with patients, analysing complex injuries, collaborating with the patient on a treatment strategy, interacting with an incredibly skilled and generous group of orthopaedic surgeons, orthotists, podiatrists, sport physicians, biokineticists and other medical experts to improve the quality of life of the patient. It is heart-warming to see a patient take the first step! It is even more wonderful when they achieve their sporting goals and fitness… but nothing beats the first few steps and the smiles of my patients.”
San-Mari is an enthusiastic physiotherapist who graduated from Stellenbosch University in 2013 and thereafter completed her community service year in Rustenburg.
Her love for orthopaedic rehabilitation started in private practice in Rustenburg and has remained her primary passion since moving back to Cape Town in 2018.
She started her own practice in 2021 in Gardens and has been working alongside Helene in Rosebank since April 2022.
San-Mari treats all neuromusculoskeletal conditions and sport injuries but she has a special interest in knee, ankle and foot conditions.
She strives to empower her patients, to educate them about their bodies and assist them in setting and achieving their goals. She uses various hands-on techniques, taping and exercise rehabilitation during her treatments.
San-Mari is a trained Pilates instructor, adventurer, fitness enthusiast and animal lover.