Why Surgery May Actually Speed DeMarcus Ware’s Return To The Field

By Dr. Dave Hnida
(CBS4) – Losing DeMarcus Ware is a big blow to the Broncos defense, but the one piece of good news to come out of this injury update is that the star pass-rusher could be back in action in about 4-5 weeks.

Ware suffered a fracture to his right ulna — that’s one of two long bones that make up your forearm. (The other is the radius.) The ulna is on the pinky side of the forearm as you hold your hand palm up, and the fracture is reportedly nearer the elbow than to the wrist.

One of the main jobs of the ulna is to help the arm bend and straighten at the elbow. It is, in fact, what makes up the pointy part of your elbow as it attaches to the upper arm or humerus.

In football, the most common way the ulna is fractured is by a direct blow to the inside of the forearm, often referred to in medicine as a “tomahawk” injury, although it’s not clear what exactly happened on the play Ware was injured.

Now you might think to yourself that the fact he’s having surgery is a very bad thing –obviously any surgery is not a good thing — but putting in some plates and screws (hardware) will probably allow Ware to step back on the field more quickly than if he put it in a cast and let it heal on its own.

Certainly, we don’t necessarily only do surgery to speed up a return to play — some fractures are more than a simple crack. They can have an angle to them, or could move around unless some hardware is put in to stabilize the break and keep the bones from shifting, or healing with a permanent deformity. Having the surgery may make the bone more stable.

The typical healing time for casting only is 6-8 weeks. With surgery, the time may be as quickly as 4-5 weeks. That would bring back Ware by the end of October.

Now how do you protect something like this when Ware does hit the field again? Well, think back to Carolina Panther linebacker Thomas Davis, who last year had a fracture to his right ulna two weeks before the Super Bowl. He had surgery quickly, and then had a newly devised custom Kevlar-type cast molded to his forearm that allowed him to return in time for the big game.

As for Ware, he reportedly will have his surgery on Tuesday, then will be splinted/casted after the procedure. But the rehab typically starts quickly — as in very quickly.

While the forearm is immobilized to allow new calcium and new bone to grow around the hardware, he will start working out his shoulders and hands so that he doesn’t lose range-of-motion. And that’s a key point: loss of movement is what impedes recovery from these injuries, athlete or civilian. So there’s a lot of work to be done.

Good luck to DeMarcus.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida

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