At 29 Becca Comas thought her active life was over.
Three years ago the Chicago soccer player and runner was suddenly disabled by left hip pain. “The sharp shooting pain was so strong,” she says, “I had to freeze. I couldn’t take another step.” Tests showed she’d torn her labrum, the cartilage surrounding the hip socket. Orthopedic surgeons told her to expect the worst. “One doctor told me I’d need a hip replacement within a year. Another told me I could never have children!”
“Labral tears are largely underdiagnosed, even by other doctors,” says Dr. Ritesh Shah. “The average patient is misdiagnosed for over three years. They’ll see four healthcare professionals before getting the correct diagnosis.” The orthopedic surgeon specializes in hip arthroscopy and knee and hip reconstruction at Illinois Bone and Joint Institute.
Becca is now completely healed. She goes spinning and running several times a week, looks forward to being an active mother, and last weekend played soccer again for the first time. “I feel reborn!” she says. “I thought this part of my life was over; that I would never do any of these things again.”
Becca’s life was turned around by a revolutionary procedure called a hip arthroscopy. “Young patients who choose can now get their active lives back,” says Dr. Ritesh Shah. “Instead of limiting themselves, most can do almost everything they used to do.”
Labral tears area extremely common, especially among athletes. (About one-in-six people have hip “impingement” which predisposes to tears.) Dr. Shah sees 15-20 patients a week with labral tears and performs about 2-4 hip arthroscopic surgeries a week. The orthopedic surgeon, one of a handful of Chicago doctors who perform the technically demanding procedure, also teaches other surgeons.
Dr. Shah says the arthroscopic procedure itself the easy part. The surgeon inserts a tiny camera into the joint then guides miniature surgical instruments to repair or remove the torn section of labrum.
“The difficult part,” says Dr. Shah “is the recovery. Patients typically spend three weeks on crutches, six weeks in a brace, and 2-3 months in physical therapy. The recovery is long because, unlike a hip replacement, after we repair these tears the body has to completely heal them.”
“It was a long process,” says Becca. “I had to keep telling myself this will be over…then I’ll reap the benefits for the rest of my life.”
One of those benefits is likely escaping later hip replacement surgery. Almost half of that surgery results from the progression of labral tears and impingement. While not yet proven, most researchers believe hip arthroscopy stops that progression and eliminates the need for later surgery. That’s critical because joint replacement, already the greatest Medicare cost, is expected to further skyrocket.
“The goal now,” says Dr. Shah, “is to locate the large numbers of young people either misdiagnosed, told nothing can help them, or never seek treatment. Their typical symptoms are hip and groin pain that worsen with pivoting or long periods of sitting.” Those patients finally have an alternative to immobility and inevitable surgery.
“I’m doing things I was told I’d have to avoid enjoying for the rest of my life,” says Becca. “I’m beyond happy.”
Dr. Shah hears that story again and again. “They’re told they can’t be helped; this is how you’ll live your life. Then we fix them…and they’re back to normal.”
Patients can learn more about this procedure at www.rapidrecoveryreality.com. They can also telephone the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute at 847-375-3000.