Tell Me Where It Hurts
Greenwich’s sports medicine doctors are on the cutting edge for local and national athletes
Photograph by Visko Hatfield
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Cornerback Will Peterson is a mainstay and a primary starter with the New York Giants, so a lot was riding on the medical diagnosis of his back injury by team physician Dr. Russell Warren of Greenwich, one of the country’s most respected sports-medicine practitioners. On September 29, 2005, Dr. Warren issued a statement noting Peterson’s medical history, which included a two-year-old fracture and the possibility that the athlete would develop another from a stress reaction. After consulting with other doctors and with Peterson himself, Dr. Warren decided that this key player would be out of action from four to six weeks.
A few weeks later, the results were happier when Dr. Warren examined quarterback Eli Manning’s elbow and concluded, as the New York Daily News headlined it, “Phew! Just a sprain for Eli.”
More than ten million sports injuries are treated each year in the United States, which helps to explain the rapid rise of sports medicine as a specialization. Injury is almost a rite of passage in sports, and it will, at some point, affect 60 to 70 percent of all runners, half of all swimmers, and 80 to 90 percent of serious triathletes.
Sports injuries run the gamut from sprains, strains and tears to fractures and dislocations. Ankles and shoulders are vulnerable, but the most commonly injured joint is the knee, and problems with it send 5.5 million people to orthopedic surgeons each year in the U.S. Runner’s knee (pain close to the knee cap) and tendonitis are frequently encountered. Trauma from, say, a torqued or twisted knee when the foot is planted awry often results in anterior cruciate (ACL) injuries. As it’s described in The Jock Doc’s Body Repair Kit,
“When a 360-pound lineman by the name of ‘Train’ makes chicken bones out of a quarterback’s legs, yanking them as if to break away the wishbones, he often begets an ACL tear.”
Injuries are particularly common among younger athletes. During the average high school basketball season, two players on the team are likely to be injured, says a study by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA). Thirty-five million children and young adults take part in sports programs, with 38 percent of all sports injuries occurring in children between the ages of six and seventeen. Most injuries are minor, but a few are life-threatening, such as the brain trauma sustained by eighteen-year-old New Jersey prep school student Kurt Socha in a football game last October. He died from his injuries two weeks later.
Dr. Paul Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon at the Greenwich-based Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS) who is also team physician for Greenwich High School, says 30 to 50 percent of youth sports injuries are caused by overuse, “because many programs or combinations of programs don’t allow time for the young athlete to rest.”
With so many excellent athletic programs, both school- and town-sponsored, Greenwich is fortunate to serve as a locus for some of the country’s best sports-oriented physicians. Five ONS practitioners were named among the top doctors in the state by Connecticut magazine last year.
Dr. Warren has been the Giants’ team physician for twenty years, but that’s just one of a long list of accomplishments. He is also surgeon-in-chief emeritus at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in Manhattan, a professor of orthopedics at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and past president of both the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and the American Shoulder and Elbow Society. It’s safe to say he knows a lot about shoulders, knees and elbows, their care and rehabilitation.
At a clinic run by HSS in Old Greenwich, Dr. Warren is on hand once a month to tend to orthopedic problems within the community. “It saves the trip into the city, and the parking is good,” he says with a laugh. “There’s a whole group of us who live in Greenwich and work at HSS. It’s a great town, with great schools — I’ve lived in Greenwich thirty years.”
Dr. Warren says that serious injuries on NFL playing fields are not that common. “The injury rates are less than they are at lower levels of the sport because of the people playing,” he explains. “The game screens out people who are partial to injuries. We examine 500 draft candidates in four days, and 95 percent of them are pretty clean.”
When players do get injured, Dr. Warren marvels at the technology available today that makes surgery less invasive. “The arthroscope came into general use in the 1970s, but the early ones were more of a diagnostic tool,” he says. “Now we can use fiber-optic tubes that enter through a small incision and allow us to look directly into joints and, with precision tools fitted, make repairs. It opens up an avenue for less invasive surgery. Procedures that once required two or three days in the hospital can now be done on an outpatient basis, though recovery times haven’t been significantly shortened.”
Such medical advances play a significant role in the treatment of bicipital tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon connecting bicep muscles with the shoulder joint, caused by repetitive, powerful overarm motions. Sound familiar? It’s frequently seen in baseball pitchers, who at the highest levels are patients of ONS orthopedic surgeon Dr. Seth Miller, a Greenwich resident who doubles as a medical consultant to the New York Mets.
“In baseball players, the majority of injuries are to the upper extremities, specifically in my area of specialty, the shoulder and elbow,” says Dr. Miller. He adds that advances in treating these delicate parts of the body have probably increased a pitcher’s longevity in the major leagues, despite the fact that today’s players throw much harder than their predecessors.