Sports medicine physicians are in the middle of a conundrum as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates: Are the injuries professional athletes suffer considered elective surgeries or not?
Twenty-seven states have canceled elective procedures or recommended facilities cancel elective procedures since March 26. The Boston Globe examined the issue as it related to Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale:
1. Mr. Sale needs Tommy John surgery to correct a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Neither the Red Sox nor Mr. Sale's agent have revealed if Mr. Sale's procedure is scheduled. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker postponed elective procedures in the state March 15, so Mr. Sale's procedure cannot be performed in Boston at this time.
2. The Globe spoke with three Boston-based orthopedic surgeons who said the procedure shouldn't be performed for anyone during the COVID-19 outbreak. Former Red Sox medical director Thomas Gill, MD, said directly: "There's no question that Tommy John is an elective surgery. A lot of guys try platelet-rich plasma injections, try rehab to avoid it, and when they can't, they end up having surgery. By definition that's elective."
3. However, other surgeons disagree. Birmingham, Ala.-based Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center surgeon Jeffrey Dugas, MD, said there are elements of UCL tears that when left unaddressed "could have a deleterious effect on the outcome."
Dr. Dugas said even though he sees the situation where Tommy John can be performed, he knows clinicians are considering the pandemic in their decisions. He said: "I don't think anybody at this point would make the decision to [perform Tommy John] without considering the position we're in. I don't know of any clinician who would be thoughtless enough not to consider that."
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