Illustration by Firecatcher
Doctors, magazines and even the first lady preach this message: Physical activity means a longer, healthier life. But the sports many enjoyed during their youth can bring pain and injury with age. Today, however, surgical advancements are providing recreational athletes throughout the Milwaukee metro area with new options designed to get them back in the game with relative ease. Meet three of these cases.
At 51, Cindy Martinez has a construction job, owns Art of Kung Fu in Walker’s Point and teaches martial arts. She also has an unpleasant history of arthritis in her knees. “I could feel bone on bone,” Martinez says. “It’s an acute pain, and it’s weak.”
Dr. Mark Wichman, director of sports medicine at Aurora Advanced Orthopaedics and head physician for the Milwaukee Admirals, provided treatment options. “Full knee replacement is a great operation, but you don’t get enough motion back,” Wichman says. In Martinez’s case, martial arts was a priority, so Wichman suggested a partial knee replacement with a plastic implant. “It feels like your old knee, minus the pain.”
Recommended for patients older than 45, partial replacements are designed to last 15 years. They also provide a more natural feeling and more flexibility. Sure enough, within two weeks of Martinez’s surgery, she was back at kung fu class. “I will never do jumping kicks again, but having the strength to stand on one leg in the bent knee position is wonderful.”
Financial adviser Andrei Junge plays basketball against Wichman. But when Junge tore an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), it threatened to bench the 41-year-old permanently. “He’s a classic patient – guys in their late 30s and early 40s who want to stay active and avoid knee replacement,” Wichman says.
In December, Junge had a rather new procedure, anatomical ACL reconstruction. In the past five years, it’s become an option for patients like him. “It puts the new ligament exactly where the native ligament used to be,” Wichman says.
The procedure boasts two main advantages: The graft requires less tissue, and there is less bone preparation, which results in less pain. “I was very pleasantly surprised,” says Junge, who started physical therapy a few weeks after the operation. “I hope to be back out on the basketball court by midsummer.”
Once he hits the court, Junge should be able to stay there. “The reinjury rate after an ACL reconstruction is between 5 to 10 percent,” Wichman says. “That should theoretically last a lifetime.”
One orthopedic surgeon told Larry Horning to hang up his sneakers, but the 53-year-old avid runner wasn’t ready. “I thought it was important to my health to keep running,” he says. A column written by Dr. Michael Gordon, a Milwaukee Orthopaedic Group surgeon as well as a sports medicine specialist and physician for the Milwaukee Bucks, provided hope. “Dr. Gordon is a runner, and he seemed to know about running injuries,” Horning says.
Traditionally, knee replacement hasn’t been a good option for runners, Gordon says, because the replacements aren’t designed for the impact of running. But advancements in sports medicine are allowing runners to keep logging miles. “The real frontier right now with knees is related to cartilage restoration,” Gordon says. “You’re trying to fill in the defect in the cartilage, like the tread on a tire.” It was a perfect fit for Horning.
About eight months after the cartilage restoration surgery, both doctor and patient shared the starting line of the Lighthouse Run in Racine. When Horning completed the race, his surgeon was waiting at the finish line. “The greatest satisfaction you can receive as a doctor,” Gordon says, “is to see your patient doing well.”
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– Julie Sensat Waldren