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UHealth Sports Medicine Institute at University of Miami Health System

Treating elbow, shoulder and knee injuries in athletes


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Dr. Lee Kaplan is chief of UHealth Sports Medicine Institute and Medical Director for the Miami Hurricanes and Miami Marlins. For more information on UHealth Sports Medicine Institute or to make an appointment, call 855-465-2604 or visit the University of Miami's health news blog.

CHRISTIAN’S STORY

Christian Cabrera is 20 games into the baseball season at Barry University and he currently leads the conference in hitting. But just last year at the start of his college career, he suffered an elbow injury that could have been a serious setback. 

“I took one throw and it felt like a knife went into my elbow,” said Christian, an outfielder who has played baseball since he was a kid.

Luckily, Christian knew exactly where to go for his injury. The team at UHealth Sports Medicine Institute, led by Dr. Lee Kaplan, medical director for the Miami Hurricanes and Miami Marlins, focuses on individual success plans for athletes of all levels, from youth to professional.

For baseball players, injuries to the elbow and shoulder are common.

“We’ve had a diversity of players with the Marlins, from younger players to more experienced. The last two national league MVPs have played for us, so we’re really in a situation where we have the baseball-related experience,” Kaplan said. 

Christian had seen Kaplan years earlier, when he tore his ACL in high school.

“I trusted him from the very beginning,” Christian said. Since then, Kaplan and the team at UHealth Sports Medicine Institute have become trusted allies for Christian, helping him navigate injuries that are part of the life of an athlete.

“It turns out almost every time you throw, you’re reaching close to the limit of that ligament. So as kids get stronger, they overuse, the rest of their elbow is not compensating for it because it’s tired. They can have an injury and actually tear it,” Kaplan said.

Depending on the specifics of the case, some elbow injuries can be healed with nonsurgical options -- either waiting for the ligament to heal on its own or through the use of regenerative medicine shots like PRP, which is created using the patient’s own blood plasma.

The most common way to address an elbow injury is through Tommy John surgery, where tissue from the leg or forearm is grafted to the elbow. Christian’s ligament was not completely torn, which allowed Kaplan to use an alternative approach with faster recovery.

“It’s called a repair, and it’s newer,” Kaplan said. “We take the ligament and fix it back down to the bone.”

The team at UHealth Sports Medicine Institute consists of primary care physicians, physical therapists, athletic trainers, physician’s assistants and nutritionists.

“It’s critical to put together a team that can really give the highest level of care to the student-athlete,” Kaplan said. 

More than just rehabilitating the physical injury, Kaplan and his team focus on the whole athlete. With students whose identity is shaped around their sport, he uses the time to set specific goals and check in on their academic performance while they recover.

“Part of my job is to fix it, but part of it is to realize that it’s just not another elbow," he said. "It’s a young boy or girl, and it’s really important that we fill that void."

The key to helping patients recover is rehab, according to Kaplan.

“We really try to get them active right away, working their core, their shoulder, other body parts we know take pressure off the elbow in a good thrower,” he said.

The facility at UHealth Sports Medicine Institute, located in the Lennar Foundation Medical Center, includes a state-of-the-art physical therapy training room where athletes work one-on-one with trainers to regain their strength and stamina.

With full use of his elbow again, Christian has set his sights on bigger things for himself and his team.

“Our goal is to win the conference and win a championship," he said. "Hopefully, I can stay healthy the entire season and one day I could go play pro.”

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FOCUSING ON YOU

Focusing on You: Innovations in Modern Medicine is a series of health care-related stories airing regularly on WPLG Local 10. For more stories like this one, visit YouTube channels for UHealth, the University of Miami Health System.

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