Cliff Politte was a Major League pitcher for nine years, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies and the World Series-winning Chicago White Sox. Since then, he has taught pitching and baseball fundamentals to St. Louis-area students. When a stray ball ruptured a distal biceps tendon in December 2009, he turned to Matthew Smith, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Matthew V Smith, MD, 35
Orthopedic Surgery-Sports Medicine, Washington University
On the injury:
A distal biceps tendon rupture is a relatively uncommon injury, prevalent among active men and in laborers who do heavy lifting. We typically see a patient with this injury every couple of months. A patient will usually feel a pop in the front of the elbow after reaching quickly for something or while lifting a heavy object. The cause of Mr. Politte’s injury is not unusual.
On the treatment:
We like to fix complete tears relatively quickly (within 2 weeks of the injury is preferable) for the best recovery. This involves making a 2- to 3-centimeters incision in the front of the elbow and sometimes a small incision on the back of the elbow. Patients are usually in a splint for 1 week after surgery. After a week, controlled motion is started in a hinged elbow brace.
On the recovery:
He should be able to get back to everything he was doing before the injury. Full motion is usually restored by 6 weeks after surgery. Patients then begin a gentle strengthening program. Unrestricted activity is generally allowed by 4-5 months.
Cliff Politte, 37
Former MLB Pitcher, St. Louis, Mo
On choosing Barnes-Jewish:
I had a hip surgery in the past at Barnes-Jewish, so when I tore my biceps this time, I immediately knew where I should go. Dr. Smith impressed me with how he explained the procedure and the overall care he took to get me the right recovery.
On the care:
The procedure itself was just an outpatient surgery, in-and-out the same day. Since then I’ve been back for several follow-ups, and he has me on a light strengthening program. Usually with something like this, after six weeks you’re sent on your way. But Dr. Smith is protective and concerned and really cares about the recovery. We are working closely together.
On the recovery:
It feels really good. The flexibility is pretty much back to normal, and I’ll be back in shape real soon. We don’t want to push it, but with his help it will be good as new.