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Friday, September 21, 2012
Paging doctor time machine

By Larry Smith and Lizzie Haldane
ESPN The Magazine

Maria Sharapova
After a torn rotator cuff, Maria Sharapova is back on top.

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FOUR YEARS after suffering a torn rotator cuff that would've ended her career even a decade ago, Maria Sharapova is the world's No. 2 women's tennis player. Her comeback made us wonder: Would today's sports medicine have changed the careers of legends cut down early by injury? So we turned to top sports docs to evaluate four icons, diagnose how they'd be treated today and give us a peek at how future stars will heal.

Bo Jackson, NFL 1987-90, MLB 1986-94

INJURY REPORT
Had his hip replaced after being tackled awkwardly in the 1990 playoffs. The two-sport star had an MLB return from 1993 to '94 but never played football again.

TODAY'S MEDICINE YESTERDAY
"Better imaging and more precise arthroscopic surgery clearly would have given Jackson a better shot at lengthening his career," orthopedist and Titans team physician J.W. Thomas Byrd says.

THE FUTURE FIX
"We're starting to calculate exact bony reshaping for athletes, so correcting a hip will be different for a butterfly goalie than for a figure skater," Byrd says. "In five to 20 years, we expect to reverse cartilage damagethat's the Holy Grail."

Bill Walton
Walton's stress fractures and bone spurs could have been rehabbed by today's doctors.

Bill Walton, NBA 1974-87

INJURY REPORT
Stress fractures and bone spurs in his feet and ankles contributed to 36 surgeries and an on-and-off career that lasted 10 seasons over 14 years.

TODAY'S MEDICINE YESTERDAY
Specialist Richard Marks thinks MRI, ultrasound and CT scans would have made Walton's recovery smoother. "In some cases, we even design rehab programs before injuries happen."

THE FUTURE FIX
"Stronger fixation techniques and biomaterials that provide almost immediate restoration of strength of a bone, ligament or tendon repair will allow athletes to return more quickly and surely extend careers," Marks says.

Bobby Orr, NHL 1966-78

INJURY REPORT
Orr had knee troubles that required multiple surgeries for cartilage damage and bone chips and limited him to 36 games after the 1974-75 season.

TODAY'S MEDICINE YESTERDAY
Early diagnosis and exacting surgery could have saved Orr's career. Says Dr. David Altchek: "We don't restore anatomy the way God originally had it; we restore to what the athlete already adapted."

Sandy Koufax
Tommy John surgery would have been the answer for Sandy Koufax.

THE FUTURE FIX
There's no cure on the near horizon for a blown ACL. "The next big thing is learning to prevent these injuries," Altchek says. "But we're still a long, long way from that." One point: Don't wear cleats on turf.

Sandy Koufax, MLB 1955-66

INJURY REPORT
Koufax had left elbow pain and numbness in his index finger. Anti-inflammatories didn't save a career that ended with a 27-win effort at age 30.

TODAY'S MEDICINE YESTERDAY
Tommy John surgery would have been a game changer for Koufax. "It's being perfected due to volume of operations," says Duke doc Tracy Ray. "This injury went from career-ending to commonplace."

THE FUTURE FIX
No surgery at all. "The beginnings of that are done now with PRP [platelet-rich plasma]," Ray says. "But certainly that's not the answer. In 25 years something akin to PRP may allow for healing without us having to reconstruct the ligament."

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