Tackling the Pain

Hip replacement surgery relieves pro football player’s chronic pain

As a former NFL linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, Steve Towle was used to playing through the pain.

But 30 years and eight knee surgeries later – when he couldn’t walk through it, stand through it or fish through it – he knew he needed a new game plan.

That’s when Towle met orthopedic surgeon Kelly Hendricks, MD, and the joint replacement team at The University of Kansas Hospital.

Huddle for hip pain

“The problem with football, everyone you play hits back,” said Towle, who holds the Dolphins’ club record of 217 tackles in a season.

In 2001 Towle was feeling the impact of those hits and his 21-year football career that began at the University of Kansas. Since then, he continued to suffer increasingly debilitating knee and back pain. His orthopedic specialists at the time mediated the pain with acupuncture, injections, surgeries and physical therapy.

“Everything would work for a little while,” said Towle. “Until it didn’t.”

When the pain became unbearable, he called some friends on the Kansas City Chiefs. They recommended he see the orthopedic specialists at The University of Kansas Hospital.

On his first visit to the triage clinic last fall, Dr. Hendricks saw that the problem wasn’t his back or knees. Towle’s body was sending mixed signals. The obturator nerve, which runs through the hip to the knee, was referring hip pain to his knees. In turn, his hip pain, because it was in both hips, was presenting as spine pain.

Towle was suffering from major arthritis in both hips, Dr. Hendricks discovered. And the reason, he said, was more likely related to Towle’s anatomical structure than the hits he took on the football field.

“I’m a professional athlete who thought he knew his body and injuries. I was off to the point that the treatment I had received for 10 years wasn’t the right pattern at all,” said Towle. “Dr. Hendricks was able to discover the real issue behind my pain.”

No pain, all gain

Dr. Hendricks recommended Towle have both hips replaced.

In the United States, the majority of hip replacements are done by surgeons who perform fewer than 40 of the procedures a year. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, outcomes are better at higher volume centers, such as The University of Kansas Hospital. Dr. Hendricks performs an average of 325 hip replacements each year.

Dr. Hendricks removed Towle’s ball and socket joint, replacing it with a modern plastic socket fixed with a titanium metal support and a ceramic ball. He replaced Towle’s left hip last August, and six weeks later, replaced his right.

“My back pain was gone almost immediately. It’s night and day,” said Towle, who now enjoys long walks in sugar sand and competitive fishing trips.

“I wish I would have done this 10 years ago,” he said.

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