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Continued: Sports culture fuels orthopedics boom

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 11, 2014 - 3:18 PM

Dr. Michael Meisterling of St. Croix Orthopedics winced after his patient, Niebuhr, asked about handball after two hip replacements. But the doctor told him he could slowly return to the sport, though it might wear out his new implants.

“The new hips have a 25-year shelf life,” Niebuhr said. “In 25 years, I’ll be 94 years old. If I’m still playing handball and I need a new hip when I’m 94, I’ll go for it.”

In reality, Niebuhr plans to back off handball just a bit — there’s always golf and sledding with his two grandchildren.

The rise in obesity has also contributed to the increase in joint problems — sometimes in combination with athletics as people exercise to lose weight.

Every 15 pounds of excess weight puts 100 pounds more pressure on the body’s joints, said Melanie Sullivan, chief executive officer for St. Croix Orthopaedics.

“If you’re 45 pounds overweight, your force is 300 pounds more than what you would normally put on your joints.”

Training like a pro

Already, the clinics are competing for patients. TRIAL and Twin Cities Orthopedics duel for patients with facilities and walk-in clinics that are 2 miles apart on France Avenue. The Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, which will open in 2015 across from Target Center, will include some form of walk-in clinic that will concentrate on downtown dwellers and commuters, Stuart said.

“There are a lot of people that work downtown,” he said, “and they don’t have this type of convenient opportunity to be evaluated, treated, rehabbed by any facility that is connected by skyway to … their offices.”

Aligning with high-profile sports teams can be a marketing advantage. TRIA’s Fischer has been team doctor for the Timberwolves since the team’s inception in 1989. Mayo announced it will be taking on that role.

That kind of relationship wasn’t lost on patients such as Scott Weyer, 67, of Prior Lake. While he researched the volume and quality of knee procedures at facilities as well, he was first drawn to TRIA because it treated athletes from the Twins, Wild and Vikings.

“You hear about these players that get this done to them and that done to them, and then they’re back on the field,” said Weyer, who wanted a knee procedure to stay mobile at his manufacturing job and on hiking trips with his wife. “I figured these guys must know what they are doing.”

In addition to surgery and injury treatment, clinics are creating programs to help athletes prevent injuries and physical therapy to help them recover after an operation. TRIA’s physical therapy program has grown 45 percent in three years, and it recently added equipment such as baseball netting so therapists can work with players on throwing mechanics.

Mayo will emphasize prevention and athletic performance as well, Stuart said.

“Athletes are looking to improve their strength and balance and conditioning — and how to think the game as well as reaction time and vision and nutrition,” he said. “Elite athlete are really looking for that kind of improvement, but so are a lot of competitive and recreational athletes.”


Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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