CHICAGO, Nov. 3, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller suffered a leg-threatening injury during a game with the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 29. He dislocated his knee, which injured the popliteal artery that feeds blood and oxygen to the lower leg. Miller was rushed into emergency surgery and is recovering at University Medical Center New Orleans.
While vascular disease in the lower legs is a common disorder, especially for older Americans, that kind of sports injury is not, said Dr. Malachi G. Sheahan III, who along with Dr. Bruce Torrance, performed the surgery on Miller. Both vascular surgeons are members of the Society for Vascular Surgery. The specialty focuses on disorders and repairs of the circulatory system.
"While we do that type of repair quite a bit, it's needed mostly because of car accidents or gunshot wounds and only occasionally because of athletic injuries," Dr. Sheahan said. Surgery to repair trauma to the popliteal artery typically involves using a vein from another part of the body to revascularize the leg.
A potential complication of a dislocated knee is that the patient tends to be in such pain that an arterial injury can be overlooked, he added. "Any kind of delay and you can lose your leg within hours. The team doctor did a great job of identifying that it was an arterial injury. I would guess that in his initial assessment he checked the circulation and didn't find a pulse in the leg. An athlete in that circumstance should have strong pulses everywhere."
In some patients, the danger can be compounded by something called compartment syndrome, which if untreated, could cause irreversible damage. That occurs when trauma causes muscles swell and become so tense that they literally cut off their own blood supply and die, Dr. Sheahan said. The issue can be relieved with a simple procedure called a fasciotomy, which releases the surrounding fascia tissue so that the muscles can expand.
The popliteal artery (the word comes from the Latin word poples, which refers to the hollow behind the knee) brings oxygen-rich blood to the lower half of the leg. Below the knee the popliteal artery branches into three tibial vessels that run down the leg and also serve the foot.
For most patients, if the popliteal artery shows up on a diagnosis, it is due to peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition that becomes increasingly common as people age and which is treated routinely by vascular surgeons. Patients who smoke or who have diabetes are at much higher risk, but for those that don't, the disease affects 15 percent of Americans over 70.
When plaque narrows the popliteal artery, patients often will complain of pain with walking and sometimes with rest. Occasionally they will show up in the vascular surgeon's office already suffering from gangrene, Dr. Sheahan said, but blood circulation to the leg and foot may be restored with one of several types of revascularization surgery.
The average person can improve the health of their leg arteries by not smoking, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, especially walking, according to the Society for Vascular Surgery.
The Society for Vascular Surgery® (SVS) is a 5,800-plus member, not-for-profit professional medical society, composed primarily of specialty-trained vascular surgeons, which seeks to advance excellence and innovation in vascular health through education, advocacy, research and public awareness.
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SOURCE Society for Vascular Surgery