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Knee injuries are no longer catastrophic

By Walter Geiger I spent much of a sleepless Sunday night researching knee injuries. This came about as a result of watching our youngest, Livia Lanier, go down in a heap on the soccer field Sunday afternoon. She beat a defender and was driving for the goal. The goalie came out and dove, as they are taught, at Livia’s feet. Livia got off the shot and her knee collided with the keeper’s shoulder. This has happened before but this time she didn’t bounce up. Instead she limped off, unable to put any weight on the leg. She was worried about missing the shot and getting back in the game but it was apparent that wouldn’t happen. She also didn’t want to leave the team for treatment before the match was over. She was examined by Dr. Tommy Hopkins Sunday evening and went for x-rays Monday morning, thus the sleepless Sunday night. As she lay in the bed, I researched knee injuries. Much of what is written is about the dreaded ACL tear that is common in football, basketball and, especially, soccer. ACL tears most often occur during an athlete’s deceleration. They are, surprisingly, a low speed injury although violent contact can cause them. Doctors were treating ACLs and MCLs in the early 1900s. They used silk to repair the ligaments which help stabilize the knee. That didn’t work too well. Later, segments of other ligaments were harvested from patients and used as grafts. The repair techniques slowly evolved and became good enough to get the average working man back on the job. Athletes were another story. Doctors could get them to walk but, in all but rare cases, running was out of the question. I was surprised to learn one of my childhood faves, the brash Joe Willie Namath, was the first to really play well after an ACL tear. He did not have surgery but had a special brace made for his knee. He did not scramble much after the injury but was able to stay in the pocket and throw. This also helped lead to the design of the nowcommonplace shotgun formation in which the ball is snapped to the quarterback who starts from the backfield not under center. This let Namath play without the three- or five-step drop that was difficult for him in the brace. The injury is all too common now. The UGA football team has lost multiple stars to it this year alone. College and pro teams have a lot invested in athletes and that economy has driven the advancement of arthroscopic knee surgery and rehabilitation. Ligament grafts from the patellar tendon or hamstring are used. They are anchored using bio-absorbable screws. Surgeries used to be invasive and were almost always career ending. Now, they involve very small incisions and patients are riding stationary bikes the very next day. Elite athletes recover faster than other patients but a normal life is attainable for all knee injury patients. Many athletes report their knees are actually better after the repair and the rigorous rehab that follows. All the reading I did on my iPhone while my injured athlete snored in the bed eased my mind a little. Prayer helped, too. These injuries were always just a part of the game to me until one hit too close to home. Update: Livia Lanier’s x-rays showed no gross abnormalities. She was to undergo a MRI late Monday afternoon and is handling the whole ordeal like the winner she is. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette and Pike County Journal Reporter.

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