PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- There is a new treatment that is getting young people with knee problems back in the game.
"I was playing in my regional championship game for Slippery Rock roller hockey. I felt the pop. At first, I thought it was an ACL, MCL, meniscus. It was my last Nationals ever. So I really just wanted to play it off until the end of the season. That Monday, I still couldn't walk. I was dragging my right leg behind me. Tuesday, I went to get out of bed, still could barely walk," said Nick Smith.
Smith's knee was worn out.
"In the back of my knee, I had, pretty much, a hole. And my bone was chipping," Smith said. "I was getting really bad spurts of pain."
"They get achy pain, they can have some catching, popping. A lot of times, a lot of pain along the joint line. And they can't really go through with the activities they want to do," said Dr. Brian Mosier, an orthopedic surgeon at AHN Forbes Hospital.
His doctor first wanted to see if it would heal itself. But the problem was bigger than that. He had something like a pothole in his cartilage called a defect.
"If you have a pothole in the road, you want to fix that by filling it," says Dr. Mosier.
It's the same idea for an operation called an allograft. Think of it as patching potholes in your knees, but instead of asphalt, doctors use a plug of cartilage and bone from a cadaver.
Turns out Smith was the perfect candidate for this type of procedure.
"A young, active person with kind of a focal cartilage defect on the weight-bearing surface of their knee," Dr. Mosier said.
But in order for it to work, the surrounding cartilage must be healthy. And the stakes are high.
"If the graft fails, then it would require a big revision," said Dr. Mosier.
After the allograft, he started physical therapy right away.
"It's healed really well. But I've also babied it a little bit, here and there, to make sure it heals well," Smith said.
And the post-op x-rays looked so good.
"He was like, 'I can't even see where I did the surgery. It's healing so well, I'm so happy,'" Smith said. "They were amazed with how much I could bend my leg. I got full motion back. You can't necessarily promise that they'll get back to the same level of activity, but you hope to maintain their activity status."
"I've had 25-year-old guys come in using canes, and they're going on getting back to the activities that they want to do," said Dr. Mosier.
For Smith, that's hockey, which he hopes to someday play again.
It's important to note you can't have this surgery if you're obese, a smoker or if you have any kind of inflammatory disease.
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