Telling stories

Sports medicine learns from the pros

Posted by southwrite on May 13, 2014

Randy Southerland, Contributing Writer

Atlanta Business Chronicle, Apr 18, 2014

The bane of any athlete’s existence is the sports-related injury. Twist an ankle or pull a muscle and you’re off the playing field – sometimes permanently. These days, amateur athletes and weekend warriors are getting back to the sports they love faster than ever – in large part due to techniques and treatments once available only to the pros.

“We’re more aggressive with allowing people to get back to playing sports and their activities than we used to be,” said Dr. Angelo DiFelice Jr., an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist with Resurgens Orthopaedics. “Part of that comes from what we see the elite athletes doing. Some of our weekend warriors are willing to put in the time and effort to get back as quick as some of the professionals.”

Physicians are prescribing more intensive rehabilitation – often at the request of the athletes themselves – allowing amateurs to get back to their sports faster, he added.

The once wide gap in recovery time between pros and everyone else is narrower than it once was, but there is still a vast difference. Professional athletes have advantages that the average guy doesn’t. The most notable difference is in physical conditioning and genetics.

“These elite athletes are just not normal people,” said Dr. Xavier Duralde, lead orthopedist for the Atlanta Braves and one of the nation’s top orthopedic surgeons. “Even if you’re the worst player on the Braves, you’re so much better than any other athlete in the area. It makes a difference in terms of how you’re able to do your therapy as well.”

In addition to being in great shape, athletes have other advantages that weekend warriors don’t. These include instant evaluation and treatment by a team of specialists with extensive experience in their specific injuries. It’s followed by a high-intensity rehabilitation program that operates around the clock.

“The resources are different,” said DiFelice. “The elite athlete has access to rehabilitation services daily, while weekend athletes and average patients are limited to a couple of times a week.”

Pros also are more motivated since overcoming the injury is their full-time job.

Treatments have come a long way. Minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery has spread from the knee to the elbow to the hip. By doing less damage to the body, recovery from surgery is now faster.

“The arthroscopic stuff we do now we weren’t doing five years ago,” Duralde said. “We have really advanced to a point where it’s minimally traumatic. You can use low-profile instruments and repair things very neatly. Get in and get out without causing too much trouble. We use them on every athlete — even the high school kid.”

The types of injuries suffered by athletes vary widely between sports, and receiving treatment from a physician or physical therapist who treats sport-specific injuries can speed recovery time.

“What you find is every sport has its specific stresses or overuse,” Duralde said. “And you’ll see unique injuries related to the sport, where if you’re not taking care of those athletes all the time, you don’t know how common they are.”

A good example is football in which more than 30 percent of all injuries are to the foot.

“There’s a reason it’s called football,” said Dr. Spero Karas with the Emory Sports Medicine Center, who serves as team physician for the Atlanta Falcons. Turf toe and Lisfranc injuries to the midfoot lead the list, he said.

The high cost of these injuries to professional teams has spurred the leagues to invest in research geared to finding new ways of preventing them, according to Karas.

Better treatment of sports injuries is coming at a time when the sheer number suffered by weekend and amateur athletes is rising.

Much of this increase can be attributed to overuse.

High schoolers are playing football, baseball and soccer year round rather than rotating through sports according to the season, according to Duralde.


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