Spike in Sports Medicine Surgeries During Extended Offseason

Thanks to this year’s extended offseason for many sports, numerous athletes were finally able to get the sports medicine surgeries they needed to continue playing at peak performance.

In this article, we’ll take a look at a few of these types of surgeries and which athletes underwent them.

Tommy John Surgery

Tommy John Surgery is used to repair Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) tears. These elbow tears are often the result of deterioration over time from specific, repetitive motions. That’s why they’re very common among baseball pitchers and other athletes regularly performing overhead throwing motions.

During this year’s baseball offseason, Major League pitchers Tyler Beede (San Francisco Giants), Reggie Lawson (San Diego Padres), Noah Syndergaard (New York Mets) and Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox) and more underwent Tommy John surgery.

Both Beede and Lawson had their surgeries performed on March 20. Syndergaard’s surgery was held in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 26, his doctor noting that Syndergaard risked long-term nerve damage if he delayed the procedure.

A few days later on March 30, Sale went under the knife in Los Angeles. His surgery had been delayed for several days in order to secure a time and location they believed did not interfere with any resources needed to battle COVID-19.

Seeing as the typical recovery for Tommy John surgery is about a year long, had these pitchers delayed their procedures any longer, they would have risked missing most or all of the 2021 season in addition to the 2020 season. Since the average MLB career is five to six years, Chad Carlson, MD, president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), pointed out that this could have cost them a big chunk of their careers and decreased their bargaining leverage when their contracts are up.

ACL Reconstruction

The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is a strong, fibrous tissue that connects the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone). It is one of four main ligaments inside the knee, and the main stabilizing ligament.

ACL injuries occur when there is a sprain or tear of the ligament; this happens most often in individuals who play sports that involve sudden stops or changes in direction, as well as jumping and landing (think football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, and skiing).

The MLS’ 2018 Most Valuable Player Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) tore his ACL during the club’s season opener on February 29. Seeing as waiting too long for surgery can lead to further knee damage, Martinez underwent reconstruction surgery in mid-March at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Returning to play after an ACL tear usually takes about 8 to 12 months, with Atlanta United stating that Martinez will return to Atlanta to begin his rehabilitation led by its medical team as well as doctors from Piedmont Healthcare.

AC Joint Repair

An acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation occurs when the collarbone (clavicle) separates from the shoulder blade (acromion), and is a very frequent injury for active people like football and hockey players.

To repair the AC joint, the CC ligaments are restored and the distal—or shoulder—end of the collarbone (clavicle) is removed, while a screw or suture loop is used to stabilize the AC joint. After about 10 millimeters of the collarbone is removed, the AC ligament is transferred from the bottom of the shoulder blade into the removed end of the collarbone to replace the torn ligament.

In January, football wide receiver Julian Edelman (New England Patriots) underwent shoulder surgery for a separated AC joint in his left shoulder. The procedure went well and his recovery was swift enough that he was able to participate in the Patriots’ offseason practices (which began in April) and now the regular season.

Injuries Continue to Plague Professional Sports

Now that many sports leagues, including the NFL, are in full swing, we’ve seen a lot more injuries. Many think this could be due to a lack of appropriate training and pre-season training camps, including Organized Team Activities (OTAs), which usually consist of two weeks of strength and conditioning, three weeks of working on routes and other no-touch training, and a final four weeks of full, non-contact practice.

In fact, there were 37 injuries that resulted in players being designated as “out” (not even “questionable”) during week 1 alone—these included pectoral, hamstring, foot, calf, neck, hand, groin, knee, ankle, thigh, liver, finger, shoulder, hip, and elbow injuries.

These numbers have only increased as the season has progressed, with a grand total of 130 players listed as out indefinitely and another seven listed as “out for season”, not to mention the additional 172 on injured reserve (IR) and 107 listed as “day-to-day” (these numbers are as of the completion of the NFL’s Week 7).

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