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Tightrope ankle technique saw Henson return sooner; Not using screws in surgery meant player's recovery time was increased dramatically HEALTH.

Byline: Madeleine Brindley

A"TIGHTROPE" surgically implanted into his ankle has allowed Gavin Henson to bounce back from injury.

The pioneering surgery, performed by consultant Rhys Thomas, allowed the Wales and Ospreys star to make a speedy recovery after damaging the ligaments in his ankle.

Henson, a double Grand Slam winner, was left out of the Wales summer tour of South Africa because of the injury he sustained during the Ospreys Heineken Cup defeat to Saracens in April.

But he was back playing again in September, following surgery, when he came on as a replacement in the Ospreys' 43-0 win over Ulster in the Magners League.

Speaking in detail for the first time about Henson's treatment, Mr Thomas, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon for Vale Healthcare, said: "Gavin's accident injured the ligaments that bind the tibia and fibula bones of the ankle together "The damage caused to this area - known as the syndesmosis - meant that the two bones running from the knee down to the ankle would spring apart if force was applied to the joint.

"If left untreated, the long-term consequences of this type of injury can include ongoing pain and weakness within the ankle, as well as the potential early onset of arthritis within the ankle joint."

Henson underwent an arthroscopy - a small camera is inserted into the joint to confirm the damage - before surgeons could temporarily realign and stabilise the bones, during the same operation.

The usual treatment for this injury is to use large screws to hold together the fibula and tibia and allow the ligaments around the ankle to heal.

Mr Thomas said: "The problem with this method is that the screws need to be removed in professional sports players, dramatically increasing the recovery time needed before players can get back out on the pitch.

"To avoid this, we used a relatively new system known as tightropes.

"This technique uses strong bonds, known as sutures, which allow the tensioning and stabilisation of bones between metallic buttons.

"We had used this technique before to treat Blues player Robin Sowden-Taylor, who sustained a total dislocation and severe fracture to his ankle in a match against the Ospreys in 2006.

"By inserting what is known as a 'plate tightrope', we were able to stabilise the ankle joint and Robin made a full recovery. Once his rehabilitation was completed, he gained a place on the 2007 summer tour of Australia and has suffered no repercussions since.

"The advantage of using this technique to treat Gavin's injury is that no implants needed to be removed and a second operation was therefore avoided, meaning that his recovery time will have been significantly reduced. The physiological movement that occurs between the bones is not altered as it is with screws, and small amounts of normal movement encourage the ligaments to heal faster.

"After the operation, Gavin was in a plaster for six weeks and was not allowed to put weight on the ankle while it started to heal. After this he began to bear weight on it in a protective boot and gradually build up his flexibility and strength.

After working with his physiotherapist to get himself back up to standard, it is good to see that Gavin has made a successful return to the pitch in the game against Ulster."

CAPTION(S):

ON THE BALL: Ospreys and Wales player Gavin Henson in action after his operation; LINK-UP: The 'tightrope' implant which was used on Gavin Henson's ankle; TRIED AND TESTED: Cardiff Blues' Robin Sowden-Taylor had 'tightrope' surgery
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 20, 2008
Words:585
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