Fixing Mystery Pain

January 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
They are young, active people plagued by hip pain -- yet nearly 60 percent of them are misdiagnosed when they go to the doctor. That's because they've torn a piece of cartilage hidden deep within the joint that's hard to see on scans. Pro athletes are shining a light on a pain problem that impacts everyone from all-stars to weekend warriors.On the basketball court, Costen Irons is king. He's a stand-out athlete, but his star power was tarnished by 15 years of chronic hip and groin pain.

"I'd play through the pain, but the rest of my life, I was always looking, where can I sit down?" Irons told Ivanhoe.

He had surgery on his groin, but the pain persisted.

"I went back to the surgeon, and he said 'You're crazy. This is great and you shouldn't have any pain," Irons said.

"A lot of our patients have had symptoms for many years," Allston Stubbs, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., told Ivanhoe. "They many times have had other diagnoses for their pain."

The answer for many -- a hip labral tear. The cartilage that seals and stabilizes the hip joint breaks away and gets pinched in the socket.

"The analogy i often use is the thorn in the lion's paw," Dr. Stubbs said.

The area is buried beneath muscles, tendons and ligaments deep inside the body, so it's often overlooked or misdiagnosed. Many times it leads to unnecessary surgery.

"In the female population, they may have had hysterectomies," Dr. Stubbs said.

Dr. Stubbs makes two dime-sized incisions and shaves the bone and socket so they fit together without pinching. He reattaches the cartilage with stitches that promote new bone growth. This year, the surgery helped Yankee's star Alex Rodriguez and Philadelphia Phillie Chase Utley.

Irons is grateful he finally found a solution to his pain.

"As soon as I had the surgery, there were movements I could do," he said.

He may never make it to the pros, but this elementary school gym teacher is just happy to do his job pain-free.

The surgery is reserved for those who don't improve with physical therapy and injections. The procedure is a two-hour outpatient surgery, and patients are often on crutches for about a month afterward. There is a risk the pain persists after surgery and doctors have to go back in and scope out the area again.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Ann Hopkins
Public Relations
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
ahopkins@wfubmc.edu


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