Behind the Olympic Gold: Surgeon Who Saved Neeraj Chopra’s Throwing Arm
FIT speaks to Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, who performed the critical surgery on Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra.
Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, on Saturday, 7 August, made history by winning the first Olympic gold medal in athletics for India, and becoming the 2nd Indian ever to win an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games.
The road to Olympics, though, is not an easy one. Along with hard work, dedication and determination, it is also fraught with hardships, disappointments, injuries, and pain.
In the case of Neeraj Chopra, one such make-or-break situation came in the form of an elbow injury that almost kept him from qualifying for the Olympics, much less winning it.
FIT speaks to Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, Head of centre for sports medicine at Kokilaben Hospital, who performed the critical surgery on Chopra's throwing arm that led him to the Olympic gold.
Firstly, how do you feel, knowing you have a part to play in his historic victory?
I'm really happy that he's done extremely well, and I'm not surprised that he's done so well. I mean, this is something I would have expected from him.
To be quite honest, the part that I have played in his gold medal success is really minimal.
I think 95 percent of the medal really belongs to him, because he's really the one who has put in all the effort and dedication over the years.
If you ask me, 4 percent would be the coach's part in it, and then that 1 percent comes with all the additional support, and I think I would fall into that 1 percent.
"We can't say that he can throw so well because of the surgery. We're not putting pistons or hydrolics into his elbow."Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, Head of centre for sports medicine at Kokilaben Hospital
He had an injury that needed to be fixed, which was fixed. Thereafter, it's how well he uses that to his advantage.
If he hadn't done too well, I wouldn't feel bad for him because I'd know that he's done his best. But the fact that he's won, I'm very happy for him! That's all because of his hard work.
What was the nature of Neeraj Chopra's injury?
I will tell you what I can tell you. Neeraj had an injury on his right elbow, which is his throwing elbow.
"These injuries are common to throwing sports, and will typically happen when you overload the joint."Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, Head of centre for sports medicine at Kokilaben Hospital
Sometimes, you will land up with small bone growths in the joint itself, and sometimes with an acute worsening they can snap and break and start irritating the joint and lock the joint.
Can you tell us a bit about the surgery? How much risk was involved?
The surgery performed on him (Chopra) was an arthroscopic surgery. This involves a small telescope that goes into the elbow joint, with the help of which we repaired and reconstructed the joint.
"Risk being involved?' that's a tough question.
All surgeries come with some degree of risk, but if the surgeon has done the procedure many times before, the risk would be minimal. With such a procedure, it is possible to fully restore the patient back to normalcy.
What does it mean for an athlete to be 'restored to normalcy'?
When you say 'restore normalcy', what we are really referring to is restoring the anatomy or the structure back to normalcy. As surgeons, we can fix it up to how nature made it, to 'normalcy'.
As part of the surgery, he had lost some of his strength and his range, and he was in pain. So after that a whole period of rehabilitation is very important to bring them back to their performance level.
What is the recommended rehabilitation period for sports people after surgery? What does it involve?
Rehabilitation typically takes about 4 months. In these 4 months, we focused on strengthening the elbow, and worked on his range with the help of exercises.
Once that's done, we need to work on the entire schematic chain.
In any throwing sport, it's not just one joint that's doing the job. To throw something at a distance, you need to generate force.
That force comes in right from your feet, that transfers to your torso, your core, your back, your upper back, you also generate that force with your shoulder, and then transfuse it with your elbow and your hand, so it's a full schematic chain.
"So, it's like a racing car. Where one part is not doing its job, so when you've gone ahead and fixed that, and fine tune it, the whole car can do its job to perfection again."Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala
You've also operated on other elite athletes like the Phogat sisters. Is there more pressure when working on athletes?
Not, really. Most of the patients that I treat are athletes, among these some will be recreational athletes, some will be competitive, elite and international athletes.
But, with patients, it's never like one is more important than the other. As doctors, I wouldn't treat X patient differently from the way I would treat Y.
"If you try and take extra care of some patient, I think that's where the pressure would come in. I think you should be taking extra care of each and everyone."Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala
What are some tips you have for future athletes, or those in training?
For any competitive athlete, the main thing (to keep in mind) is that you need to work on your fitness.
No matter what kind of sport you play, and at what level, your fitness is critical, besides your skill.
When we talk of fitness, there are many different aspects to this.
First is strength and conditioning.
When it comes to strength, you need to make sure that your muscles, which are your main motors, have the ability to provide the energy either in sudden bursts or in endurance, depending on the requirement of the sport. So, you have to train accordingly.
"Say if you're playing badminton, for multiple repetative smashes and strokes, you will need endurance. For Javelin or weightlifting, you require a sudden burst of energy."Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala
The second part is your flexibility. If you have stiff joints, or stiff muscles, higher the chances of you landing up with tears and injuries.
Third, is stability. You need joints that are stable so that you won't dislocate them.
Fourth would be coordination. If you have all of this, and your muscles are well coordinated, you'll find that your functioning would be much better.
Finally, you require your balance and your entire proprioception–the ability to use all of these components together to deliver your results.
"The point is that you may be a good badminton player but if you dont have a fitness regime with a proper trainer, you're ultimately going to hit a wall."Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala
What are some things that parents of growing kids who are heavily into sports need to keep in mind to ensure good bone health?
Good bone health comes down to a good diet. If they eat a healthy balanced diet, that seems to be good enough. It doesn't necessarily need to be non vegetarian, you don't require protein shakes or any supplementation as such.
Getting some amount of sunlight will also help strengthen bones.
Once again, overall fitness is key for even children, no matter what sport they are playing. And it's good to start early when it comes to building one's fitness.
"It's important to start early. You cannot think, 'oh, I'll get fit when I play for Mumbai,' no, you may not get to that level if you don't work on your overall fitness now."
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