August 11, 2022 by John Fernandez
Boca-Based Orthopedic Surgeon Tends to Athletes of All Ages, from College Players to Retirees
For one prominent orthopedic surgeon based in Boca Raton, treating injuries or wear-and-tear disorders to the knee, shoulder, hip and ankle comprise somewhat of a hybrid practice. He tends to the needs of high school and college athletes, and to a substantial local population of middled-aged and retired individuals who are still athletically active.
Specializing in sports medicine, arthroscopic surgery and total joint replacement surgery, Alan Saperstein, M.D., Chief of Orthopedic Surgery at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health, sees a full range of ages. He has a unique awareness of the immediate and cumulative effects that a lifetime of sports activity can have on an individual’s joints.
On the younger side, many of his patients are referred to him because of his role as team physician for the Florida Atlantic University (FAU), Lynn University and Spanish River High School athletic programs. Many of those patients experience acute bone and joint injuries during games and practices. Those student athletes frequently require expeditious orthopedic evaluation and treatment, sometimes including surgery, which he skillfully provides.
At the other end of the spectrum, Dr. Saperstein treats many older athletes with more chronic joint injuries. “I do a lot of care for those older athletes and former athletes, in terms of rotator cuff repairs and joint replacement surgeries for the knee, the hip, or the shoulder,” explains Dr. Saperstein. “So, my practice does encompass many different types of procedures and a wide range of ages. It’s a fairly diverse waiting room if you ever come to my office.”
Lately, Dr. Saperstein has been interviewed by several network affiliate stations for Palm Beach County regarding the PGA Tour players and the likelihood that Tiger Woods, who resides in Jupiter, will return to the circuit despite the persistent challenge of his reconstructed leg. (Dr. Saperstein was not involved in the care of Mr. Woods.)
“Many of my patients have told me that they’ve seen me on TV and were proud to say, ‘That’s my doctor on TV.’ That’s definitely been the best part of the experience.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Saperstein keeps very busy with his range of patients and injuries, whether from traumatic injury or wear-and-tear stemming from arthritic joints and diseased tendons and cartilage.
Encourages ‘Activity at All Ages’
Despite the myriad of orthopedic problems he treats, Dr. Saperstein is a major proponent of physical activity to stay healthy – physically and mentally – despite the challenges of aging.
“I completely encourage activity at all ages, especially as you get into middle age and older,” he said. “Activity is key for cardiac health, for mental health, and truly for musculoskeletal health as well. So, absolutely one needs to stay active.”
But, sometimes those activities can “bring out the injuries,” he adds.
“They can bring out conditions that might otherwise be more quiescent, such as tendonitis that might not be as irritated if you weren’t active. And the sports we see people playing are not just golf and tennis. You see plenty of middle-aged and older athletes playing basketball, running and even hockey. I see a lot of middle-aged and older hockey players, even though it’s South Florida. There’s also a lot of swimmers.. You see all sports at all ages.”
Types of Injuries Among Young Athletes
In terms of young players at FAU and Lynn University, Dr. Saperstein sees a fairly good range of injuries, led by those affecting the knee joint.
“We see a little bit of everything, really, but I’d say the knee is probably the most frequently injured joint, followed by foot and ankle. But, fortunately, most of these are non-operative conditions that resolve quickly and they just need some good rehab. And we’re able to provide that to them. Once in a while, we’ll get some surgical injuries and we take good care of them for that as well. But, fortunately, most of them are relatively minor and get better quickly.”
Surprisingly, most of the injuries are “non-contact” – meaning that there was no collision with another player or the ground.
“With most of the sports — soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball and baseball. — in terms of contact versus non-contact injuries, I’d say they’re a little bit more on the non-contact side, such as ACL tears (the ACL tissue connects the thighbone to the shinbone at the knee),” explains Dr. Saperstein. “Two-thirds of ACL tears are non-contact. The athlete, say a basketball player, plants their foot to pivot. And then they twist and the foot stays planted — but the rest of their body turns and the ligament tears in the process.”
Among other injuries he treats: Labral tears affecting the ring of cartilage in the shoulder joint, tendon ruptures, cartilage injuries, and those affecting the meniscus, the rubbery cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between the shinbone and the thighbone.
Treating Middle-Aged and Older Patients
Many of his patients are in their fifties, sixties and seventies. “They have their own set of orthopedic issues. Some are sports-related like rotator cuff tears. Some are more degenerative conditions which can be the consequence of a life in sports, such as arthritis.”
He also treats different types of tendonitis, which can refer to any tendon which is inflamed, causing swelling, pain, and discomfort.
“I see rotator cuff tendonitis, elbow tendonitis, and knee tendonitis. You see a lot of meniscus tears in the knee. Meniscus tear in the middle-aged athlete is more of a degenerative condition than a real traumatic condition. It’s not usually from a single traumatic episode. It’s just more wear and tear, and the tissue getting a little bit worn out. So, you see a big variety of pathology at every age.”
For active individuals at any age, Dr. Saperstein offers cautionary notes to his patients. Primarily: Easing into any new activity, taking breaks between active days and not to ignore new pain or strains. This is especially true as more people are returning to outdoor activities at this stage of the pandemic.
“Certainly, as the pandemic reaches this new phase, it’s not going to affect our lives in terms of our daily behavior as much,” explains Dr. Saperstein. “I feel like there’s a thirst there for people to go out and really try to enjoy themselves and do things. We are seeing more athletic injuries than average because of that. I think the trend is towards greater injuries recently or greater irritations of underlying conditions than we had seen historically. But I think a lot of that is just recovering from this pandemic, and now getting back out there.”