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Bright Future for Athletes with Tissue Transplant Knee Surgery


According to a study from Hospital for Special Surgery, athletes can return to playing sports after receiving tissue transplants for bone and cartilage knee injuries.

Riley Williams, III, M.D., director of the Institute for Cartilage Repair at the Hospital of Special Surgery, led the study. “Based on the data in this study, physicians can expect athletic patients treated with this option to return to sports,” says Dr. Williams. Prior to this study, physicians counseled patients that they may be able to walk around but that they would not be able to return to sports.

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This is good news for semi-professional and professional athletes who run the risk of osteochondral defects, damaged chunks of bone or damaged knee cartilage. Most athletes get contracts based on age. The older a person is the more prone to these injuries they become. So, with the past prognosis of not being able to return to sports, older players would receive less money. That may now change if these players can return to sports after such injuries.

Dr. Williams says the injury can be as big as 15 to 30 millimeters in size. The symptoms include pain and locking knees. Doctors transplant fresh bone and cartilage into the injured area to correct these injuries, and just like a broken bone, it just needs time to heal. “The surgery is done as an outpatient procedure, the patient goes home on crutches, and recovery takes about three to six months.”

Many patients attend physical therapy after surgery as well to try and keep the associated muscles strong and in control of the knee cap. However, many patients stop doing other activities besides sports as well, such as walking long distances, going up and down stairs, dancing at functions, and so on. This leads to less exercise and resulting weight gain. This weight gain can put additional stress on all the joints and bones, which may, depending on how rapid the weight gain is, delay recovery.

This “babying” of the knee can have an impact on quality of life for these patients in a devastating way. Now that doctors know the prognosis is indeed bright, patients will be able to continue living life the way they did before and avoid all the resulting problems that used to occur in the past.