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Maureen Finnegan, M.D. Answers Questions On Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine

Maureen Finnegan, M.D. Answers Questions On: Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine

What health-related mistakes do athletes make again and again?

We’ll start with young women. Thin is thin, but thin can actually get you into trouble. Young track and field or marathon runners with osteopenia (thinning bones from loss of menstruation due to training too hard) is a huge problem. If your bone bank is low when you finish growing, you actually cannot get it back up to where it needs to be. You end up with significant problems down the road. So that’s one of the problems we like people to realize.

And guys need to realize, with muscle bulk, you were designed to have a certain amount of muscle bulk. Trying to cheat with the muscle bulk, i.e. with enhancing your hormones, has produced some really sad stories – including liver cancer and lack of ability to bear children. The saddest thing is a 30-year-old guy who stands up in front of a group of high schoolers and tells them that, you know, “I’m dying of liver cancer” or “I can’t have kids because I’m stupid and I did this.”

The media focuses on “If you’re a guy you need to be big and if you’re a girl you need to be skinny,” but the fact of the matter is that there’s a line, and if you cross it, you’re actually putting your health at significant risk.

You’ve had a highly influential research career, studying not only children with hemophilia but also the relationship between smoking and fracture healing. Why is it so important for patients with broken bones to quit smoking?

The standard of practice now is to find out for sure if patients are smoking or not, and if they are smoking, to tell them that they really need to stop – at least during the time that the bone is healing. There are a lot of patients we can put into smoking cessation, or put them on a [nicotine] patch at least while the fracture’s healing. Even if they slow down their smoking they’re not as delayed as if they smoked like they were before. We still have not been able to figure out exactly what causes the delayed healing, but the feeling is it’s probably some sort of vascular insult (injury to the tiny blood vessels that help bone heal).

For people with sports-related injuries, what is the advantage to seeing an orthopaedic surgeon who is trained in sports medicine?

A good portion of sports medicine is non-operative. A lot of it is soft-tissue injury (injury to tendons and ligaments). So people who have trained in diagnosing soft-tissue injury and treating the soft-tissue injury nonsurgically and getting the athletes back to their competition is probably the advantage of having sports-medicine-trained docs.