By Howard Rosenthal, MD
Joint pain, muscle soreness and sprains are a way of life for high school athletes. Most of the time the injury is minor, and the pain and swelling swiftly subside.
In some instances, when pain and swelling persist, there may be something more serious at play. Tumors of the musculoskeletal system, both benign and malignant (known as sarcomas), frequently occur in the first 2 decades of life. Symptoms typically involve pain in or around the joints and muscle aches.
Most tumors that arise in the bones of young athletes are not cancerous. Even so, they can pose significant joint problems including fractures, pain, swelling and stiffness. Often, sarcomas are insidious, mildly painful areas with no perceptible mass. Athletes might attribute the pain to exercise or training related to a sport or competition.
When pain and swelling are persistent, and unusual for the type of injury suffered, athletes should see a physician. X-rays can reveal whether a tumor is present.
Surgical and nonsurgical treatment
Many musculoskeletal tumors can be treated without surgery. Read how interventional radiology specialists treated a pea-sized tumor inside 14-year-old Hunter Cashatt’s shinbone without surgery.
Tumors that could cause the bone to break or lead to deformity are commonly treated with surgery. Surgery consists a of a biopsy and tumor removal followed by bone grafting or other reconstructive options to preserve limb appearance and function.
Surgery is often outpatient, or the patient may spend a day or so in the hospital. During recovery, patients must limit their activities and sports participation.
Not every athlete with pain should be evaluated for a bone tumor. A physician can make that determination. Most athletes with benign or malignant bone tumors return to the field and compete as fiercely as before, performing remarkable feats in their sport of choice.