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REBUILT AT THE BODY SHOP
DAVID EPSTEIN
August 08, 2011
Thanks to enhanced surgical techniques, more and more athletes are being sent back into action after suffering injuries that were once considered career-ending
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August 08, 2011

Rebuilt At The Body Shop

Thanks to enhanced surgical techniques, more and more athletes are being sent back into action after suffering injuries that were once considered career-ending

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1 PLATELET-RICH PLASMA THERAPY

This procedure, in which a patient's blood is extracted and spun in a centrifuge to separate the concentrated platelets, which are then injected at the site of an injury, has been used since the 1970s, but new portable technology has made it easily available outside hospitals. "Nobody knows just what injuries respond to platelets," says David Altchek, orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and medical director for the Mets. "There's a very good case for tennis elbow, and we know if you cut yourself with a razor, platelets work [by clotting]. But there are no side effects. It's as safe as medical treatments come."

2 ROTATOR CUFF AND LABRAL TEAR SURGERY

The rotator cuff (the muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder) and the labrum (the cartilage band that rings the shoulder joint) often tear together. Surgeons used to trim the labrum or create a bony barrier to keep tendons from slipping out of place, but these days after a SLAP (superior labral from anterior to posterior) tear they aim to restore the original anatomy of the shoulder. Results have been mixed. "The Phillies looked at players who had SLAP repair throughout the organization," Altchek says, "and the return-to-sport rate was [about] 30 percent."

3 SPINAL FUSION

"A lot of linemen need this when they're done playing," says Altchek. "When they drive forward off the line, they extend their spines, and they do this over and over. They end up with instability in the spine that compresses nerves, causing pain." To relieve pressure on the nerves, screws and rods are used to anchor the spinal disks in place. In some cases, the disks themselves have to be replaced. It's extremely rare for a player to even attempt to return to action after this operation.

4 TOMMY JOHN SURGERY

In this procedure, first performed in 1974, a tendon taken from elsewhere in the body (most often the forearm but also the ankle or hamstring) is threaded through holes drilled in the arm bones to replace the ulnar collateral ligament. Twenty years ago just over half of Tommy John patients returned at least to the same level of performance, but now the rate is near 90%. "They used to move the ulnar nerve and make more holes in the humerus," Altchek says. "Now they don't move the nerve, and they make fewer and smaller holes to reduce the surgical injury."

5 MICROFRACTURE SURGERY

This technique gets its name from the tiny holes bored into the end of the femur in the knee joint, allowing bone marrow stem cells to seep out and grow into cartilage. Longer periods of postoperative inactivity (crutches for two months and no impact exercise for three), combined with the use of antigravity treadmills, have increased athletes' chances of returning successfully.

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