Drew Brees’ Injury: A Surgeon Talks Advancements in Hand Surgery

Football star, Drew Brees, passing the ball to a player.
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A torn ligament in the thumb has benched New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees for at least the next six to eight weeks, but advancements in orthopedic surgery mean greater efficiency for surgeons and faster recoveries for professional athletes and the public, too.

Drew Brees’ Injury and Orthopedic Surgery

In a game lost to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, September 15, Brees suffered a thumb injury after slamming into Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The injury forced him out of the game in the first quarter after he could not grip the ball.

On the following Wednesday, Brees underwent surgery to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the thumb of his throwing (right) hand. His wife Brittany was by his side in the hospital four days later, on her birthday. “I love you, Brittany. More and more every day,” the future Hall of Fame quarterback wrote on Instagram on the day of his surgery.

Steven Shin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and a director of hand surgery at a Los Angeles medical center, operated on Brees. Dr. Shin is the hand consultant for several professional sports teams in Los Angeles and has performed several UCL surgeries for several other prominent athletes.

After coming out of surgery, Brees shared a photo on Instagram attempting to give a thumbs up to fans and followers, saying that the surgery — step one, he called it — went smoothly.

Ligament Repair Surgery: A Common Procedure for Athletes

Brees’ injury is a common one among his fellow football players and even professional skiers. Nicknamed “skier’s thumb,” a torn UCL can happen easily from falls and hinders an athlete’s ability to grip objects.

Hand bones are held in place and supported by soft tissues, including important ligaments like the UCL. Ligaments are tough, rope-like tissues, and each finger joint has two collateral ligaments on each side. The UCL is the ligament that connects the thumb to the rest of the hand.

While Brees had surgery for the torn UCL in his thumb, reconstruction of the UCL is considered a gold standard of treatment for overhead-throwing athletes. However, UCL surgery is just one of a variety of innovative orthopedic surgeries for the hands — just ask orthopedic surgeon Scott Putney, MD.

Advancements in Hand Surgery Benefit Everyone From Athletes to Fans

Orthopedic surgeons specialize in extremity medicine, meaning they handle the bones, muscles, joints and surrounding structures in the arms and legs. Dr. Scott Putney is one such board-certified orthopedic surgeon at AdventHealth Palm Coast.

Skilled in a variety of orthopedic procedures, Dr. Putney specializes in upper extremity orthopedics, with a focus on wrist, hands and microsurgery. “I particularly enjoy treating problems in the upper extremity — the elbow through the fingertips — and have chosen to make that the focus of my practice.”

Dr. Putney is seeing thrilling innovations come to fruition in his practice. “It’s really an exciting time to be a hand surgeon because advancements over the past decade have truly changed the way we can deliver care,” he says.

State-of-the-Art Technology

Our ability to do microsurgery has improved greatly, says Dr. Putney. “The optics on new microscopes have come a long way, allowing us to operate on tiny blood vessels and nerves in the hands that we could not treat previously,” he says. “We have those capabilities here at AdventHealth and it’s really changed the way that we’re able to provide care for people with vascular and nerve injuries to the fingers.”

Real-Time Ultrasound of the Hand

“We can do real-time ultrasound within our clinic,” Dr. Putney says. “The biggest advantage from a diagnostic standpoint is instead of taking a snapshot picture, like an X-ray or an MRI, it allows for a real-time, moving picture,” he says.

“For example, I can hold the ultrasound machine over a patient’s finger and have them move the finger and watch the internal structures move in real-time, which is really important for our ability to diagnose previously difficult-to-diagnose conditions.”

This process is not only efficient for surgeons like Dr. Putney but also convenient for patients as it allows a diagnosis to be made in one appointment. For athletes like Brees who need answers fast, these advancements make surgery more efficient and speed up recovery time.

Hand Surgery Without Anesthesia

Although the procedures themselves have not evolved rapidly in the past decade, Dr. Putney has seen major improvements in how hand surgery is done.

“Hand surgeons started to recognize the value of doing surgery with numbing medicine only, which is great because it means no pain for the patient during the surgery,” he says. “When you eliminate the risks of general anesthesia, you make surgery safer,” he adds.

“Doing hand surgery with numbing medicine also allows the patient to move their hand or fingers during the surgery. For example, if we’re repairing a cut tendon, I can do the repair and then have the patient make a fist to ensure that the repair is strong enough. This has allowed for accelerated rehab protocols and really provided better outcomes for our patients.”

Your Compassionate Orthopedic Surgeon, Just a Phone Call Away

“I think being a physician is primarily a human-focused business,” Dr. Putney says. “Developing relationships with your patients and sharing empathy with them ultimately leads to a much better outcome and more of a partnership in their care.”

If you’re having a problem with your hands or wrists, Dr. Putney encourages you to get help. You can reach his practice at Call386-586-1910, or learn more about surgical care and our orthopedic services at AdventHealth Palm Coast.

Your team, including Dr. Putney, is here to help you feel better physically and feel whole in body, mind and spirit.

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