While many people today enjoy the health benefits that accompany sports and recreational activities, there are also risks. Each year over one million youths, and another one million adults, sustain serious sports injuries requiring medical attention. On the latest edition of Medical Rounds with Baystate Health, Dr. James Bullock, an orthopedic surgeon, who specializes in sports medicine at Baystate Valley Orthopedic Surgery in Greenfield and Northampton, explained how he helps patients to recover from their injuries and return to playing their favorite sport.
Q: What does an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon do?
A: Orthopedic surgeons take care of what we call the musculoskeletal system. Probably the easiest way to describe that for your viewers are the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, joints and connective tissues that help the body to move and keep its form. But, it’s not just athletes whom we care for…it’s anyone who might have sustained an injury that requires surgical intervention to return them to their desired activity level.
Q: What types of procedures are your specialties when someone makes an appointment to see you?
A: I perform what is called arthroscopic surgery. It’s a minimally invasive technique that involves making a small incision in the skin and inserting a pencil-sized instrument that allows us to see what is wrong with your joint and to repair the problem. This less invasive surgery is less disruptive to the anatomy, so the initial recovery is much quicker. Personally, I am very passionate about helping patients to regain normal movement focusing on issues with their shoulders, hips and knees.
For example, in the younger population, one of the more common procedures we perform is for shoulder instability, or in medical terms “labral tears.” These injuries occur as a result of repetitive throwing, something a pitcher does on a baseball team. But, they can also occur from a traumatic fall that results in a dislocated shoulder.
Q: We often hear about ACL injuries and how debilitating they can be, not only in athletes, but others who sustain these knee injures through various accidents. Can you explain how you help patients with ACL trauma.
A: I see many patients who suffer from anterior cruciate ligament injuries, better known as ACL injuries. They are very painful and feel as if your knee is unstable, putting the patient at risk for injury to other parts of the knee. These injuries are very common in the young athletes who play basketball, soccer, lacrosse and football, but they can also be seen in dancers and gymnasts. ACL repair is a specialty of mine. I was fortunate to train under a physician in Pittsburgh named Dr. Fu, one of the most published surgeons worldwide on ACL surgery.
Q: When you think of a hip, you think of a joint that is much bigger than some others. Can you still perform hip surgery arthroscopically using small incisions?
A: Yes, but unlike shoulder and knee arthroscopy, it hasn’t been around as long and is a very exciting and developing area in sports medicine surgery. Just like in the shoulder injury I mentioned earlier, the hip also has a labrum which is crucial to the stability of the joint, thus allowing athletes to engage in deep squatting activities associated with some sports. Minimally invasive surgery allows us to repair this labrum and address many cartilage injuries and bone abnormalities within the joint. It’s also important to note that if ignored, these injuries can lead to someone developing arthritis much earlier in life.
Q: What is the best advice you can give to someone who sustains a sports injury?
A: To begin with, you should see your primary care provider, who can run some initial tests and determine if you need to see a specialist. It’s then my job to determine what treatment is appropriate. And, not everyone will require surgery. Some may only need an injection to help minimize inflammation. Others might require physical therapy and rehabilitation. My best advice is to not ignore your symptoms. It is much better to address these issues earlier and correct them immediately, so that you can return to activities of daily life, which for many involves playing sports. So, I would recommend that someone seek care right away if he or she has an injury which results in significant difficulty moving a particular joint, or that involves swelling or pain with an activity.
To make an appointment with Dr. Bullock, call 413-773-2220
(The weekly Medical Rounds is broadcast in the 5:30 p.m. portion of the Tuesday night news and focuses on family health and wellness and breakthrough technologies. Each session is followed by an interactive live chat.)