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When Sports Injuries Require Orthopedic Surgery

Do you remember when Drew Brees tore his rotator cuff during the first year of his NFL career? What about when Tom Brady tore both his ACL and MCL? Well, now Brees has one of the best throwing records in the league, and Brady has won enough Super Bowl rings to fill one hand.

Many athletes are nervous following an athletic injury because they are scared they won’t be able to play like they used to. Tom Brady and Drew Brees are a couple of the most well-known football players who have overcome traumatic injuries thanks to sports medicine and orthopedic surgery.

The most common sports injuries are strains/sprains, knee injuries, shin splints, fractures, and dislocations. However, orthopedic surgeons see ACL tears, knee injuries, and torn rotator cuffs regularly in athletes.



The scariest news for an athlete to hear is that they have a torn ACL. For the longest time, a torn ACL was considered “career-ending,” but athletes today can make a strong comeback with the right treatment.

The ACL connects the femur to the tibia – or the thighbone to the shinbone – and prevents your thighbone from extending too far forward over the knee. It also helps stabilize the shinbone from rotating outwards. The ACL can tear when it’s stretched beyond its normal range. This will normally happen because of sudden twisting movements, slowing down from running, or landing from a jump. Some people might hear a “pop” at the time of injury. Your knee could give way and will likely swell and hurt.

Since the ACL is a ligament, it cannot heal itself like a muscle. It must be reconstructed with surgery. Some people may choose to treat the ACL with a rehabilitation program focused on muscle strengthening and lifestyle changes. However, surgical reconstruction is recommended for those who are seeking a more active lifestyle and a full recovery. After reconstruction, rehabilitation will help to regain flexibility, stability and strength.



One of the most drastic knee injuries for athletes is a torn Medial Collateral Ligament or MCL. The MCL is located on the inner part of the knee, but is outside of the joint. A MCL injury is usually caused by a direct blow to the knee and is seen frequently in full-contact sports. However, even Stephen Curry tore his MCL from a basketball game. Thankfully,  he recovered fully.

Unlike a torn ACL, a torn MCL does not require surgery. MCL tears are graded in three categories, ranging from partial tears or sprains to complete ruptures. Even a complete rupture will not require surgery. However, it will take a little longer to heal. This means your MCL could heal within one week to two months depending on the severity of your injury.

Physical therapy plays a big role in regaining knee strength and preventing further injury. Biking, swimming, and rowing are a few sports that are easy on the knees. They are low-impact sports for athletes to regain their knee strength and stability before going full force into a contact sport.



Rotator cuff tears are common. They will not always require surgery, however. Tears are usually caused by a hard hit to the shoulder, heavy lifting, falling on an extended arm, or repetitive overhead arm movement. There are many different treatments depending on the severity of the tear.

A complete tear in the rotator cuff will usually involve re-attaching and stitching the tendon to the head of humerus. In some cases, like with a partial tear, you might need only a trimming or smoothing procedure called a debridement. Most patients experience slight pain and discomfort after surgery. Medication will help temporarily, and then rehabilitation will help get you back to full mobility.



As we know, the most competitive athletes play hard, and once injury strikes, they fight harder to play again. We must develop this same mindset as well. Just because you aren’t a World Champion doesn’t mean you can’t recover like one! Keep a positive outlook, and focus on the result. Don’t do something that could weaken your injury and set you back even further. In the words of Red Sox World Series Champion Curt Schilling, “If you have the guts, grab an orthopedic surgeon…”

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