On the ball again – Knee Problems

17/10/2012 11:24

Plagued by knee problems, goalkeeper Alimin Mohamed thought his professional soccer career was over when he suffered not one, but two major knee injuries. But tenacity and a caring team of doctors and physiotherapists soon got him back on the field.

When football fans watch Tampines Rovers goalie Alimin Mohamed darting around on the pitch in his signature #14 jersey, most are probably unaware that he has a knee full of screws and metal plates.

The goal keeper of Singapore’s leading football club first joined the high profile football club’s youth academy at 14. Moving up to the Prime League, he was just 19 when he suffered his first knee injury.

“As the Tampines Stadium football pitch was undergoing maintenance then, the team trained at the field just outside the stadium. Unfortunately, I stepped into a pothole. I thought I’d just twisted my ankle but I heard a loud ‘pop’ from my right knee. That night, it swelled up and was so painful I could hardly walk,” recalled Alimin, now 27, about that fateful day in November 2003.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury

The next morning, he consulted orthopaedic surgeon Dr Tho Kam San at Mount Alvernia Hospital. A well-known name among local sportsmen, Dr Tho is also the team physician for the national soccer team. Dr Tho delivered the bad news: Alimin had completely torn his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), the main tissue holding the joints in the knee together. He would need reconstructive surgery and it would be at least six months to eight months before he could be back on the field. The doctor also cautioned that full recovery was not guaranteed either.

“It was my first year in the Prime League and the beginning of my professional football career. I was utterly depressed at this major setback,” recalled Alimin.

Alimin told himself that his best bet was to cooperate with the doctor and maintain his mental strength. “Dr Tho saw how much I wanted to get back on the field and scheduled the operation for the very next day.” During the four-hour surgery, one of the hamstrings in Alimin’s left thigh was used to replace the ACL in the right knee.

Intensive Sports Physiotherapy

Intensive rehabilitation followed immediately. “Every day for two, three hours, I’d be at Mount Alvernia’s Rehabilitation Centre. There, Senior Sports Physiotherapist Fairuuz bin Saleh started with cold and current treatment on his knee for a fortnight to reduce the swelling. He then guided Alimin to do leg presses to build up his left thigh muscle.

“The pain was so great, I had to hold back my tears,” grimaced Alimin, “but I persevered because I wanted to play football again.” After getting the green light from Dr Tho, he doubled his rehab efforts, once with his physiotherapist in the morning and a second session swimming or cycling at the gym in the afternoon. It paid off. Just four months later, Alimin was back in training and chasing his soccer dream.

Although his right knee had completely recovered, Alimin developed a phobia. “I was so afraid I’d hurt it again, I couldn’t perform my best. 2004 was the lowest point in my career. I played some games but almost didn’t make it to the team the next year,” admitted Alimin. “Thankfully, my coach and team mates didn’t give up on me and spurred me on.”

Everyday, besides two-hour training sessions with his team, Alimin also hit the gym. Dr Tho also advised him to take glucosamine supplements to strengthen his joints.

By 2006, Alimin was on top of his game again. Appointed captain of the Prime League team, he guided them to win second place and was even promoted to the S League team. Then in December 2009, on the very first day of the pre-season training, disaster struck again.

Another Torn Ligament!

“I stretched out for a ball and landed awkwardly. This time, although there was no pain or swelling, I knew from my previous experience that I’d injured my right knee again.” Dr Tho confirmed his worst fear; Alimin had torn 80% of the entire ligament and would require surgery again. This time, he had to use a synthetic patella tendon as “I’d run out of hamstrings I could use,” he explained.

Suffering an ACL injury injury twice often spells the end of a sportsman’s career. But the tenacious Alimin refused to give up. Working closely with his physiotherapist, they tackled his daily rehab with a vengeance. After two months, Alimin progressed to jogging. Their concerted effort paid off beautifully. In just three and a half months, Dr Tho pronounced him fit for the field again.

Since then, Alimin has been playing at his highest level yet. Last year, the Tampines Rovers won the S-League and toured Maldives, Vietnam, Thailand and Iraq, making it to the quarter finals of the Asian Football Federation. Called to the field in the last 30 minutes – ironically because the first goalkeeper suffered an ACL injury – Alimin stopped goal after goal from the Iraqi team. It was one of his finest performances yet.

Unfortunately, during extra time, the Singapore team scored an own goal and the Iraqis won 1-0. Alimin was disappointed but there was a bitter-sweet consolation. “My coach Steven Tan told me that I’d done a good job and that he didn’t expect that from me as I’d replaced our goal keeper, a key player on the team, at the last minute,” shared Alimin with quiet pride.

Successful Rehabilitation

Tapping at his right knee, he declared, “I’m so thankful I can make a comeback in my career because Dr Tho successfully operated on my knee twice. I also want to express my gratitude to my physiotherapist Fairuuz who pushed me to my limits to help me bounce back even stronger,” said Alimin, who also credited his family, coach and team mates’ faith in him as driving forces.

“I’ve benefited from the care at Mount Alvernia Hospital over the last eight years and I truly appreciate the amazing service. Everyone I’ve met has been very experienced and knowledgeable about my condition, and very patient with me. On the day of my discharge, they sent me out on a wheelchair and even carried me into the car! They don’t just say goodbye after you sign the discharge form! I often see them send newborn babies out to the cars too!” said an impressed Alimin.

When told that it’s a unique Mount Alvernia tradition, Alimin smiled, “That’s one thing about Mount Alvernia Hospital that stands out from the rest. Here, they really take care of you like you’re their child.”


Common knee problems in Singapore include Osteoarthritis of the knee & meniscus tears. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Tho Kam San is based in Mount Alvernia Hospital and is an expert on common knee problems.