David A. Abrutyn, M.D., is the team physician for both Immaculata High School in Somerville, NJ, and Sky Blue FC, New Jersey’s team in Women’s Professional Soccer. He also serves as Medical Director of The Joint Surgery Institute at Somerset Medical Center, ranked among the top 10 percent of hospitals nationwide for joint replacement surgery, as well as Associate Chairman of the Division of Orthopedic Surgery at Somerset Medical Center and Tissue Transplant Service Director at Somerset Ambulatory Surgical Center.
1. How can athletes keep their joints healthy and avoid needing replacements?
Anytime an athlete competes they are at risk for injury. However, the best way to keepone’s joint healthy is strength and conditioning training. This should include a functional movement screen to assess the individual weaknesses specific to the athlete so that a neuromuscular, sport-specific program can be designed to suit the athletes needs. This will not only prevent injury, but should improve performance.
2. Why are athletes prone to joint replacements?
There is an increase prevalence in total joint replacements in people in their 50s. However, I am unaware of specific reference citing a higher incidence in “athletes”. That said, any ‘weekend warrior’ that has a previous cartilage injury who continues to participate in high demand and impact sports (i.e., basketball, jogging, football, soccer,etc) is prone to further deterioration of their joint and the possibility of need a joint replacement.
3. Do you find joint replacements more common in certain sports?
Not specifically; but generally patients with arthritis can tolerate low-impact aerobic activities such as stationary bike, golf, walking, swimming, doubles tennis, cross-country skiing, etc.
4. What steps can be taken to prevent them?
Joint replacement is indicated for individuals who continue to have pain that is significantly affecting their quality of life after they failed all other conservative options. This includes activity modification, weight less (when appropriate), oral anti-inflammatories, injections (corticosteroids, hyalanuronic acid, possibly PRP), bracing. The other important issue is range of motion. It’s hard to regain lost motion in the face of arthritis, but it’s important to maintain one’s current motion.
5. Who typically suffers from joint injuries?
It seems that all athletes, young and old, are prone to suffering a joint injury.
6. What general trends do you see in joint injuries?
The prevalence of joint injuries, specifically to the knee, has increased over the last several decades as more female athletes have competed in organized sports; in addition, athletes now are training year round with minimal to no breaks and this has led to overuse injuries to the shoulder, elbow and ankle; moreover, as the 50+ population has remained more active later in life, they are suffering from more joint related injuries.
7. Do you have any suggestions for athletes returning to athletics after a joint replacement?
This needs to be individualized between the athlete and their surgeon. It’s important to have realistic expectations prior to surgery to understand the severity of your problem and the likelihood of returning to the sports you desire. However, in general, most patients can return to low impact aerobic exercise including, bowling, bicycling, golf, dancing, walking, swimming, doubles tennis, hiking, cross-country skiing, and weight training.
8. What advice can you give to patients with regards to recovering from joint replacements or preventing joint injuries?
At our joint surgery institute, we focus on a multi-modal approach to pain; we have a protocol that includes oral medication to minimize pain and the need for narcotic pain medications as well as, regional anesthesia. Therapy starts immediately to get your new joint moving. Injury prevention is best approached by proper conditioning, strengthening and maintaining flexibility.