Jonathan D. Hughes, MD, a UPMC orthopaedic surgeon and team doctor for the University of Pittsburgh Panthers football team — helps athletes and active people recover as quickly and safely as possible following injury. Dr. Hughes sees many patients at the new UPMC Outpatient Center on Clairton Boulevard in West Mifflin. He specializes in both knee and shoulder arthroscopy, including tendon repair and reconstruction.
About Tendon Injuries
You have 4,000 tendons in your body. These flexible bands of tissue connect your muscles to your bones. (Ligaments, in case you’re wondering, connect bone to bone.)
Tendons allow you to use your muscles to move parts of your body. Tearing a tendon limits how much you can move a joint.
Sports injuries are among the most common causes of tendon injuries. People may also injure tendons in other types of accidents, like a deep cut that severs a tendon. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis also cause your tendons to weaken and tear.
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Treatment for Tendon Repair: Surgery or Not?
If you have a possible tendon injury, your doctor may order imaging tests, like an ultrasound or MRI. This will show if you have an injured tendon or other problems, like bleeding or fractures. You may be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon.
Tendon repair surgery reconnects a torn tendon, but not all tendon injuries need surgery. Partial tears, where the ends are still touching, may heal on their own. Immobilizing the tendon with a brace or splint can help.
The amount of pain you have might be an indicator that you need surgery — but that is not always the case. Even if you experience excruciating pain during daily activities, surgery may not be necessary.
It also depends on the severity of the tear and if there are other problems, like bleeding. Your doctor will review the pros and cons with you.
What Is Tendon Repair Surgery?
Most orthopaedic surgeons do tendon repair surgeries on an outpatient basis. It’s a fairly straightforward procedure, and surgeons who work with athletes tend to do a lot of them. The goal is to restore your ability to move.
Before surgery begins, depending on your particular injury, medical history, and overall health, you’ll receive either:
- General anesthesia: You’ll be unconscious during the surgery.
- Regional anesthesia: You’ll be awake during surgery, but won’t feel pain. A large part of your body will be numb.
- Local anesthesia: Just the area where you need surgery is numb. Though awake, you won’t feel pain.
Each tendon repair surgery is different and depends on the severity of the tear and the location of the tendon. Although orthopaedic surgeons use various surgical methods, basic steps usually include:
- Making the incision. If you’re having arthroscopy, this will be a small incision. For traditional surgery, the incision may be a few inches long.
- Removing damaged parts of the tendon.
- Reconnecting torn ends of the tendons. The surgeon may have to use an extra piece of tendon to make the ends meet. In some cases, a tendon (or tendons) is taken from a part of your body that has two tendons but can function with only one. Cadaver tendons also may be used to connect the tendon edges, depending on the severity of the injury.
- Stitching up the incision. A doctor or nurse will dress and cover the wound.
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Recovering from Tendon Repair Surgery
Right after your surgery, you may have pain and swelling. Your doctor will talk to you about what pain medicines to take. You may be encouraged to apply ice to the area, take anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling, and keep the area elevated.
In the weeks after surgery, you may start to regain some range of motion. Again, this depends on the type of injury. Rotator cuff tears, for example, often need to stay immobilized for several weeks.
As you recover, you may need to wear a sling or a splint, or use crutches.
Most people need some sort of physical therapy to fully regain range of motion and to move without pain. This might involve in-person physical therapy. Or your doctor may give you a list of daily exercises.
It’s important to listen to what your surgeon tells you about when it’s safe to move and get back to your routine. It can feel like a long road, but bodies — and tendons — have a remarkable ability to heal.
“I see the entire workup for tendon injuries, including ultrasound or MRI, at the new UPMC Outpatient Center on Clairton Boulevard. Surgery also can be done at this location,” says Dr. Hughes. In addition to seeing patients in West Mifflin, he has office hours in Bethel Park, Monroeville, Greensburg, and Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood.
In West Mifflin, UPMC Sports Medicine experts see patients for a variety of conditions and treatments, including (but not limited to):
- Shoulder arthroscopy
- Elbow injuries
- Proximal hamstring tears
- Knee arthroscopy
- Complex knee surgery
- Ankle fractures
- Ankle/foot sports injuries
To learn more or schedule an appointment, please call 1-855-937-7678 or visit our website.
About Sports Medicine
Sports bring with them a potential for injury. And if you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. We serve athletes from a wide variety of sports across every demographic: young or old, male or female, pro or amateur. We partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and over 60 high school, college, and regional teams and events. We’re working to build better athletes. We use cutting-edge rehabilitation techniques to help you recover and provide education on how to prevent injuries.