Christina Allen, MD, is chief of Yale Medicine Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation Sports Medicine and head team physician for Yale Athletics.
A former collegiate soccer player and team physician for U.S. Women’s and Men’s Soccer as well as the U.S.A. Taekwondo National Team, Dr. Allen specializes in complex shoulder and knee injuries, especially those to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). She also has expertise in meniscus transplantation, ACL revision surgery, and proximal hamstring repairs.
Despite her lifelong interest in sports, Dr. Allen, who studied biomedical engineering as an undergraduate at Duke University, didn’t realize orthopaedic surgery was for her until she needed surgery for a meniscus tear in her early 20s.
Before having her actual meniscus surgery in the hospital, she underwent a diagnostic arthroscopy, in which the surgeon made a small incision and inserted a narrow tube (with lenses and a small camera at the end) into her knee to diagnose the problem. “Instead of doing an MRI, they just peeked inside my knee to check out the problem. It was done in the office, and I was awake to see it. It totally hooked me on sports medicine,” Dr. Allen recalls. “If I had been asleep the whole time, I wouldn’t have been the wiser about what orthopaedics is. I was enthralled by the fact that I could see the inside of my knee on a video monitor.”
The personal experience with both surgery and rehabilitation set her on her career path, and she also understands an athlete’s mentality of wanting to get back to his or her sport—particularly young athletes.
“I know athletes are really going to push it, and sometimes, you have to almost micromanage their return to sport, because if you just give them an inch, they'll take a mile,” Dr. Allen says. “And when people go back too early—I've seen it time and time again—they can get injured if they don’t rehab adequately. I’m a super, super, super big advocate of physical therapy.”
For her research, Dr. Allen explores what causes failure after ACL reconstruction surgeries, and how to optimize ACL revision (re-do) surgery outcomes. “Since I was an engineer, I'm really interested in why things fail. Why does an ACL reconstruction fail the first time after the surgery?” Dr. Allen says. “And what can I do the second time around and make sure that this is a success?”
Still, the best part of her job, Dr. Allen says, is clearing a patient to return to their sport. “Especially the youngsters, they’re so excited and the parents are happy,” she says. “They want to take the selfie and post it on Instagram. It’s not about just performing their surgery it’s about finishing the complete process and recovery and clearing them to play. Their eyes light up when you finally say, ‘OK, you’re good to go.’”
Years In Practice