If it’s an autumn Saturday, you’ll find UVA orthopaedic surgeons Mark Miller, MD, and F. Winston Gwathmey Jr., MD on the sidelines at a James Madison University (JMU) football game. While both men love football, they’ll be there not as fans but as physicians. This year marks the 13th season Miller has served as the head orthopaedic physician for JMU’s varsity sports teams, and Gwathmey assists him in the care of the football team.
On game days, the doctors arrive early and head for the training room to see the team, monitoring any existing injuries or issues, clearing athletes to play if required and ensuring that they are taped adequately if necessary. Home or away, one or both of the doctors is on the sidelines with the team, ready to respond if injuries occur.
“These athletes are running at full speed into one another, and at any given moment, there can be a high-energy injury — a knee dislocation or a shoulder dislocation or a neck injury or a concussion,” Gwathmey says. Posterior labral tears of the shoulder are among the most common injuries, especially in linemen, with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries occurring occasionally.
When and if an injury occurs, the player may need to be taken to the locker room for evaluation; it’s the physician who must then determine if it is safe for him to return to the field. If needed, Miller or Gwathmey can have the player transported by ambulance to UVA Health System and will provide follow-up care.
If additional specialization is required, Miller and Gwathmey are supported by a multidisciplinary group of UVA specialists, including A. Rashard Dacus, MD, for hand, wrist and elbow conditions; Joseph Park, MD, for foot and ankle conditions; David Weiss, MD, for trauma; and Adam Shimer, MD, for spine-related injuries. Miller explains that for JMU and the University of Virginia, including UVA Health System orthopaedic specialists in their athletic programs allows their elite athletes to tap into the breadth of care available at UVA Health System. “We have a whole host of referrals available,” Miller notes. “That’s why it’s an advantage for an academic medical center to take care of a university.”
From Elite Athletes to Weekend Warriors, Advanced Care for All
Miller and Gwathmey treat a broad spectrum of patients at UVA and see their role as team orthopaedic physicians as one facet of their respective medical practices. With his specialization in knee and shoulder arthroscopy, Miller says that ACL injuries are not only the most prevalent injury he treats in college athletes, but among the most common for his regular patients as well. Conversely, he repairs many more rotator cuffs in the broader population. A typical week is divided between clinic days and those spent in UVA Outpatient Surgery Center, where he handles six to eight surgical cases per day.
In addition to his work with the JMU football team, Gwathmey is also an associate team physician for UVA, where he oversees care of the baseball and women’s basketball teams under head UVA orthopaedic team physician David Diduch, MD. Beyond this role, Gwathmey’s medical practice focuses on shoulder and knee arthroscopy, as well as hip arthroscopy for patients with chronic hip pain caused by issues such as labral tears and impingement. He notes that recent medical advances allow patients with some nonarthritic hip problems to receive treatment, and relief, saving them years of pain and avoiding more invasive procedures. Like Miller, Gwathmey notes that, while he is proud of his work caring for the JMU and UVA varsity teams, his patient roster extends far beyond elite college athletes.
“Athletes come in all ages, shapes and sizes,” Gwathmey points out. “They’re not always the person you see on TV on a Saturday afternoon. Even though you might not be playing in front of a big crowd, you’re still trying to perform and function at a high level.”