Well Played

Minimally invasive joint surgery helps get patients back in motion

Allen Dice had always planned to follow in his father's footsteps and join the Marine Corps after high school — but that dream almost got yanked away by a single football tackle.

In August 2013, the now-18-year-old was playing in a game and a rough tackle sent pains shooting through his hip. An MRI showed that he'd torn his labrum, the ring of cartilage that follows the outside rim of the hip joint socket and provides stability to the joint. As he struggled to recover, the pain kept getting worse, and he found it difficult to walk or sleep on his side.

When a steroid shot proved ineffective, Dice was referred to Clark Baumbusch, MD, who specializes in a type of surgery called arthroscopy. Although he was considered an ideal candidate for that type of surgery, Dice still worried that the hip issue would be permanent, affecting his entire future.

"When I found out that I had to have surgery, it really put fear in my mind that I wouldn't be able to do the career I wanted to do," he says. "I felt like everything was at risk."

But now, just six months after the surgery, he's walking and running like he did before that fateful tackle. "It's like it never even happened," he says. "That's a pretty huge relief."

What's Involved

Arthroscopy, also known as arthroscopic surgery, is a minimally invasive procedure on a joint.

The surgeon uses an arthroscope, an instrument that requires only three to four small incisions, and a camera system. Rather than seeing a joint directly through a large incision, the surgeon can view the damage on a screen, thanks to a tiny camera that provides a full view of the joint.

Because this method is much less invasive than surgery done through larger incisions, it can be done on an outpatient basis, notes Dr. Baumbusch.

"The goal is to get a faster and more complete recovery," says Dr. Baumbusch. "We want to restore function and get the patient back to what they were doing before the injury."

Best Candidates

Although many patients, like Dice, get arthroscopy because of injury, the procedure can also be used for those who have structural abnormalities in their bones. That type of issue can cause a labrum tear, even if someone hasn't suffered an injury.

"It's very common to find this abnormality during a procedure, and arthroscopy can fix that problem," Dr. Baumbusch notes.

Typically, patients range in age from teens to late 50s, and they tend to be people who enjoy athletic activities like hiking, jogging or cycling. Sometimes the tear doesn't begin as sudden, shooting pain, but instead starts as nagging hip pain during everyday activities, like walking up stairs or squatting down.

"Hip pain with activity is sort of the red flag," says Dr. Baumbusch, who adds that a labrum tear presents as pain around the hip, from the groin to the outside of the thigh. Like any surgery, arthroscopy has risks, but there's an extremely low chance of infection, the doctor notes, and occasionally patients report temporary numbness in the thigh and leg, but that dissipates during recovery.

Recovery Options

Those who have joint surgeries have the option of receiving post-op care in Augusta Health's Joint Care Center. Hip arthroscopy patients might benefit from outpatient physical therapy. Therapists target core strengthening, since strong abdominals are important for back and hip health.

The length of the recovery depends on several factors. Dice says he used crutches for just the first two weeks after surgery, then continued therapy for six more weeks without crutches.

"My recovery felt very quick," he says. "There was very little pain, and it didn't even feel like my leg was weak on that side."

Back to Normal Life

One of the major advantages to arthroscopy, according to Dr. Baumbusch, is that patients can often return to their regular activities in a fairly short amount of time. He says, "We can get you back, and doing better than before."

For some patients, like Dice, it's as if the injury never occurred.

These days, Dice runs two to three miles per day, and he's looking forward to a career in the Marines, where he hopes to train in advanced technology. He feels grateful to Dr. Baumbusch and Augusta Health for putting him back on the path that he's always planned to pursue.

"I've always wanted to protect my country, and to serve," he says. "Now, I can do that, and I'm really looking forward to my future."

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