College athlete-turned-physician brings fresh perspective to MUSC’s rehab program

April 24, 2023
A man in a blue uniform dribbles a soccer ball on a field
Chileshe Chitulangoma, U.S. Men's Cerebral Palsy National Team midfielder, practices in advance of a game in Australia. MUSC Health physician Dr. Matthew Sherrier travels with the team for big matches. Courtesy U.S. Soccer Extended NTs Instagram

Matthew Sherrier, M.D., works with athletes all of the time. As a physical medicine and rehab (PM&R) sports medicine physician for MUSC Health, it’s his job to understand human physiology inside and out. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a former collegiate athlete himself. So, yeah, he gets it. He knows what it takes to perform at the highest level. 

Whether it’s recreational, collegiate or professional athletes – Sherrier’s main focus is getting these athletes back to their peak levels after they’ve been injured.

“I’ve been where many of these athletes are before,” he said. “So it’s a little easier for me to put myself in their shoes.” 

But there are a few pairs he hasn’t walked in. And ironically, those are the ones – belonging to the athletes who are just a little different than him – that have had the greatest impact on him in his young career.

From the pool to the pitch

Although he played many sports growing up, it was his aquatic speed that flashed the brightest, earning him a scholarship on the men’s swim team at the College of Charleston. 

During those four years, Sherrier had a lot of success in the pool, graduating with eight school records. And it was in that same chlorinated water that he met his eventual wife, a Mount Pleasant native and member of the women’s swimming team.

Mugshot of doctor sherrier 
Dr. Matthew Sherrier

So even though his career took him north after graduating from MUSC’s College of Medicine in 2017, he had a feeling that the Palmetto State would factor back into his future.

“I always knew we would end up back here,” he said. “Charleston has always been special to us and has felt like home.”

First, it was off to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) for a four-year residency in PM&R followed by a one-year sports medicine fellowship at Northwestern University, where he served as a physician for most of the Wildcats’ athletic teams. After those five years, Sherrier knew his next move: to bring that same top-notch level of care and expertise back to the people of Charleston – reconnecting him with the place where athletics had given him so much.

The timing was serendipitous because, at the same time, MUSC Health was looking to bolster its PM&R offerings, and Sherrier was a perfect fit. So they hired him to join the Department of Orthopaedics and Physical Medicine. 

By day, Sherrier works with the Lowcountry’s athletic population but occasionally – thanks to an opportunity provided by two of his mentors – he also has one of the most fulfilling side gigs a former athlete could ask for: serving as one of the team physicians for the U.S. Men’s Cerebral Palsy National soccer team. 

How he landed that part-time position had something to do with his impeccable medical reputation but even more so his vast experience in working with patients with disabilities and adaptive athletes. 

“I mean, that's kind of the foundation of our specialty – treating patients with disabilities – whether they are from spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, amputations, among others,” he said. “So, working with someone who might be dealing with a disability was nothing new to me.”

The role of sports

Though it only requires a few weeks commitment here or there – Sherrier is quick to point out how accommodating the MUSC leadership, including his department chairman, Lee Leddy, M.D., and division chief, Ameet Nagpal, M.D., have been to let him step away to do it – that time has taken him to some exotic spots: He’s already traveled to Spain and Australia with the team.

Sure, much of his time is spent working with players on the sidelines or in locker rooms, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to see most of the games. And what he’s seen thus far has been nothing short of inspiring.

A group of three doctors wearing hats and jerseys standing on the sidelines of a soccer field 
Sherrier with his U.S. Men's National Team colleagues in Australia, earlier this year. Photo provided

“I mean, these guys are a ‘no-excuses’ bunch. They go out; they put on the cleats just like everybody else and compete as hard as they can. And they are elite athletes.”

The way the sport works, Sherrier said, is each team has seven players on the field at a time, versus 11 in traditional men’s soccer. The field is a little smaller and so are the goals, and there are no off-sides rules. But basically, the rest of the rules of the game are the same – the main difference being the players. CP soccer has a three-category classification system for the athletes, ranging from FT1, or more limitations, to FT3, or less limitations. To ensure fairness, each team must have at least one FT1 player on the field at a time and no more than one FT3 player at a time.

“For the most part, the differences are subtle. It’s still high-level, high-intensity soccer,” Sherrier said. “These guys are really pushing the limits of what their bodies are capable of. It is really inspiring.”

Sherrier suspects that he’ll keep working with the team as long as he’s able. Not only does it afford him new and exciting experiences, but it allows him to return to his patients at MUSC with a renewed perspective – something he’s then able to pass along to anybody who will listen. 

“It’s just a great reminder that sports are so important. There is so much value there. That’s why I encourage everybody, not just people with disabilities, to get outside and stay as active as possible.”