The Darkside of Sport: Surgery and Recovery

bob mantz@bobsblitzSenior Writer IJuly 31, 2008

This author's bruised arm 3 days following medial epicondyle release surgery (photo).

Surgery is a word associated with sport that we read or hear about every day.  I have personally had 9+ surgeries in my lifetime - many of them were related to sports.  3 nose surgeries, hernia, shoulder and medial epicondyle release surgery are just a few of them.  None of them was fun.  And those hockey players, as ESPN puts it, "He's a hockey player", that stay in a game after losing a tooth?  Crazy!  All of my upper front teeth are crowned.

I watched the first Ultimate Fighting Championships back in 1993 and decided to get back into the martial arts.  The initial foray was going to the gym with my younger (but bigger brother) and fighting.  I'm the smallest of three brothers at 6'1" 230lbs.  He was 6'5" 270lbs with a University confirmed 4% bodyfat (he still is 6'5"...) and had been the TE on his high school's state championship football team.  I think my record against him is about 1 and 299.  During our workouts I cranked my neck, sprained a knee, broke my nose, etc.  But nothing too serious.

We both decided to join fighting schools.  He met up and trained with Renzo Gracie while I went to a local school.  It offered private lessons without the need to test and work the belt progression.  I would learn a new technique or two and then we would simply spar.  No point system.  Just all out sparring with a tapout or knockout required to end the session.  My brother and I continued doing this for a few years.  We'd get together and spar each other from time to time but basically we both stuck with our own schools and their competitions.

One day in 2004 my left shoulder hurt.  It continued to hurt for several weeks before an x-ray indicated a sprain.  I completed 6 weeks of physical therapy (PT) and it wasn't any better so an MRI was done.  Jorge Posada just underwent arthroscopic surgery for a torn labrum.  That was what my MRI showed as well.  However, when they went in they found the labrum frayed, the rotator cuff torn and my bursa sac destroyed.  PT for this surgery took me about 3 months.  It was laborious and painful but I was able to get back into training after completion.

I developed pain in my right elbow in January of 2007. X-ray showed inflammation and I received the catch all tendonitis diagnosis.  Rest, ice, PT and 3 cortisone shots over the course of a year did nothing to help the pain.  So, I was back in for yet another MRI.  MRI showed a tendon tear.  I was scheduled for and had medial epicondyle release surgery (which is an open surgery - no scopes) on February  25th, 2008.  The pain after surgery was almost unbearable.  The one benefit to elbow over shoulder surgery is that you can immobilize the arm easier.  But when you do move it?  The pain is awful.  The picture above is 3 days post-op.

This is the bicep 6 days post-op:

This is the stitching (yes, that's an arm - not a knee):


Quickly after the photo above was taken my elbow developed a hematoma.  The doctors removed the stitches and I was to keep warm compresses on it in hopes that the hematoma would be reabsorbed.  It didn't.  The picture of what happened to the elbow one fun Friday night is here.  But I warn you - it is not pretty - up to you if you'd like to look at it.  The hematoma burst.

The hematoma bursting set rehab back 2 weeks.  Rehab for a release is bad enough as it is.  It was 2 months before the orthopedic surgeon would let me pick up a 1lb weight.  Yes, ONE pound.

Today I am getting closer and closer to full recover.  I curled 40lbs this morning during my workout and should be at 100% by September. 

The next time you hear about a professional sports athlete going under the knife take a minute to think about what they are really going to have to go through.  Ever heard a surgeon say, "It's simple surgery"?  She means it is simple for her...My best to Jorge for a full and speedy recovery.

Bob 'octopi jujitsu' can be contacted at

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