The cartilage doctors are in |

The cartilage doctors are in

Alex Miller
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyDr. Richard Steadman of the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic speaks to members of the media Friday at the Lodge at Vail during a cartilage conference.

VAIL – Fifteen years ago, athletes and others suffering a serious cartilage injury to a knee, shoulder or other joint pretty much had to call it quits. This weekend in Vail, some of the doctors who’ve developed procedures to repair such injuries are in town to help spread the knowledge.Known internationally as one of the top clinics in the world for sports injuries and other orthopedic treatment, the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic at Vail Valley Medical Center is playing host to this weekend’s Vail Cartilage Symposium. It may not sound like the sexiest topic for a gathering, but for anyone who’s ever been sidelined with such an injury, the information being shared can mean an enormous difference in lifestyle and athletic pursuits.”There are four major procedures that have stood the test of time, and the inventors of three of them are here,” said Dr. Richard Steadman. Speaking right after delivering a talk Friday morning on his own procedure – microfracture – Steadman said one of the aims of the symposium is to communicate the latest techniques to surgeons around the world. To that end, the entire symposium is being videotaped, with the sessions soon to be made available for viewing online.”We all continue to work on identifying the best way to do these procedures, and over the Web we’ll be able to reach many more people,” he said.

Steadman said the information will be available at no cost to interested surgeons. While some of the procedures do require specialized equipment, he said others do not, making them feasible for doctors in, say, Africa. Growing fieldWhile athletes from around the world come to Vail to be treated at Steadman-Hawkins Clinic, Steadman noted people from all walks of life stand to benefit from progressive cartilage surgery and the follow-up physical therapy required. “The baby-boom population is huge,” he said. “And this is a population intent on maintaining a high level of activity as they grow older.” Part of the equation, Steadman said, is re-educating people who’ve experienced joint problems. “They just need to know that their athletic days are not over, but that they can refocus on another activity,” he said. The whole reason for surgeons to meet in symposia – either in-person or online – Steadman said, is to expand the base of knowledge. He added that the procedures being discussed are far from being the only viable solutions.

In a discussion session after his talk, Steadman fielded several provocative questions, one of which focused on the growing problem of obese patients and the greater stress on recovering cartilage. “The focus we have is the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself,” Steadman said. “So we want to harness that and enhance the ability to go through the healing process.”That’s in contrast to the option of a total joint replacement, although Steadman said that’s sometimes a viable option as well.Options and knowledge of alternatives is a big part of what Steadman preaches, and he said the symposium presents a good forum for those ideas.”It’s a unique situation to have all these people here,” he said. “Vail should be proud to be hosting it.”The online component of the symposium should be available in about six weeks, with a link through the Web site Horse sense

One curious offshoot of Dr. Richard Steadman’s own work in microfracture is its application in veterinary medicine. Microfracture, he explained, is a technique to make the body think it has been injured at the time of the procedure, allowing natural healing processes – including the patient’s own stem cells – to take over.Dr. William Rodkey, a doctor of veterinary medicine who serves as a consultant for the Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation, said the study of injuries in horses led to some of the advances in treatment for humans. That knowledge then came back around to help treat “equestrian athletes.””Horses suffer many of the same kinds of injuries as humans, so the work we’ve done has given us the basic scientific proof that it works in humans,” Rodkey said. “But it’s also come to be the procedure of choice for horses as well.””I don’t think that’s ever happened before,” Steadman said, referring to a technique tested on animals which was, in turn, used to treat the test subjects.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or Daily, Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism