Mayfield Brain & Spine’s Robert Bohinski performs a surgery. Thanks to new technology and techniques, surgeries are more minimally invasive.

Professional and recreational athletes who are injured are getting back in the game quicker than ever because of recent advances in medical tools, techniques and materials.

Minimally invasive surgery is one of the best ways to get patients back to an active lifestyle quicker because there’s less tissue damage and less blood loss, says Dr. Michael Kachmann, a neurosurgeon with Mayfield Brain & Spine.

“We’ve just advanced our abilities to take out, say, a herniated disc or decompress a nerve through small little tubes or ports or small windows to decompress the nerve and remove the offending pathology and take away someone’s pain through a small incision,” says Kachmann.

“So, we do this in everybody, but really it’s helpful for these big, strong athletic people that may have something that we have to operate on them, at least in the spine, to help them get back to play quicker and recover,” says Kachmann.

Advancement in minimally invasive surgical techniques means that patients are able to recover quicker than a patient would have even just five years ago, he says. A new surgical technique to fuse the lumbar spine (lower back) allows surgeons to access the spine through a small hole from the side of the abdomen instead of from the front or the back, says Kachmann. “Doing that lateral approach to the disc space has totally revolutionized what I do for people,” he says.

Dr. Ian Rice, an orthopedic surgeon with TriHealth Orthopedic and Sports Institute, has also seen exciting developments in minimally invasive orthopedic surgery. “Meniscus repair of the knee often times used to require an incision on the back side of the knee, a big incision, deep dissection on the back side,” he says.

“A lot of the instrumentation that we have now allows us to do that all through two tiny little stab incisions on the front of the knee and we don’t have to make a single incision on the back,” says Rice, who performs advanced, minimally invasive arthroscopic procedures for sports-related injuries of the hip, knee, shoulder and elbow.

Another advancement in the field of sports medicine is new absorbable implant materials for ligament reconstructions and rotator cuff repairs, Rice says. “The use of metal and foreign permanent plastic type material, which is still used occasionally, it’s becoming less and less common,” he says.

Now, doctors are using biocomposite screws and anchors made of calcium and other minerals that turn into bone as they are absorbed by a patient’s body, says Rice.

Surgical screws and anchors made of a biodegradable polyester material, which is also absorbed by a patient’s body, sometimes cause a negative reaction, says Dr. Eric Wall, director of Orthopaedic Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“Maybe anywhere from 1 to 5 percent of people have a reaction” to the implants made of the biodegradable polyester material, he says. “They’ll form like a cyst or something; they’ll have like a foreign body reaction,” Wall says.

The new biocomposite screws and anchors that turn into bone as they are absorbed appear to perform better for patients, he says. “You don’t get as many reactions from them,” says Wall.

Helping doctors react better as a team during surgery are high-definition monitors in the operating room. “Just like the rest of the world keeps getting better TVs and resolution and all that we’re getting the same thing in the operating room,” Rice says.

“So what started out as crude, standard definition, probably analog back when arthroscopy started, has gone to high definition and now even the 4K kind of monitors are becoming more commonplace in the operating room,” he says. “So literally what we’re looking at is getting crystal clear.”

Not only are what doctors looking at crystal clear, it’s also on multiple monitors in the operating room. “Before we used to have just one monitor and now the whole room is filled with monitors,” Wall says. “There’s probably four or five screens, so even the anesthesiologist can watch,” he says.

Having the anesthesiologist be able to watch the surgery may not sound like a big deal, but it is, says Wall. “So they know exactly when to wake somebody up,” he says. “They can see right where we are in the surgery because they’re watching it at the same time.”

The surgeons can also see what’s going on with the patient by watching the anesthesiologist’s monitor. “We can just look up and see the blood pressure, the heart rate and see if things are going pretty well, so that’s helped quite a bit,” says Wall.

Not only are scientific and medical advances getting adult athletes back in the game sooner, but good, old-fashioned education is also helping children recover quicker from sports injuries, says Dr. Kelsey Logan, director of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“We have seen a huge increase in the number of sports-related concussions that we treat,” says Logan. Parents are getting children with a suspected concussion to the doctor’s office faster than they used to because of all the recent publicity about head trauma, she says.

“The number of concussions, we think, has largely increased because of awareness,” Logan says. And that leads to fewer complications for children with concussions.

“For example, instead of waiting a couple of weeks to be seen they’re being seen within a few days,” says Logan. “So we have, anecdotally, seen a relative decrease in the complicated cases and patients taking several months to recover. We’re not seeing as much as that. And that is really great.”

What isn’t so great is the number of children, especially those still in elementary school, who are coming in to the doctor’s office with over-use injuries. “Ten years ago we would not see many 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds with over-use injuries,” Logan says. “But now it’s routine because of the popularity of year-round sports and many kids specializing in one sport earlier,” she says.

Parents and coaches just need to learn that more is not necessarily better, Logan says. “Instead of just saying yes to everything maybe they become more choosy about how much sport and what sport they’re going to do,” she says.

“Remember that the overall goal for someone who’s continuing their physical development should be to have fun and develop skills and also keep a very high level of physical fitness,” Logan says.