Facial injuries in sports usually cause dramatic injuries, often severe, as they can be related to vital anatomical elements, such as the eyes or the airways. A rigorous treatment of this type of problem is essential if the athlete wishes to resume his activity as soon as possible. Fortunately, there are more and more techniques to minimize recovery time. We talked about it with Dr. Federico Rehberger, maxillofacial and aesthetic surgeon.
We all fondly remember the great captain of the Spanish national team and Barcelona football club, Carles Puyol. The brave centre-back had a reputation for working hard on the pitch. But in addition to skin and legs, his face was also split. Literally. Up to four times in his career, Puyol suffered injuries related to facial trauma, derived from beatings during the match, for entering fearlessly to dispute a ball. Double fracture of the orbital base and the zygomatic arch of the right eye. Septal dysmorphism of the nasal septum. Left cheekbone fracture. Right cheekbone fracture. The medical history of Puyol’s face is extensive.
Facial trauma injuries in sports are not uncommon. They’re showy, very showy (or impressive), and in many cases, they’re pretty serious. However, things have changed a lot since Carles Puyol risked his facial bones on the pitch.
Currently, thanks to medical innovation in the maxillofacial area, athletes have a good range of preventive solutions or conservative treatments to prevent a problem from becoming more complicated.
“Given the need for a professional athlete to recover as quickly as possible, so as not to harm his career, in recent years different approaches have been developed to treat facial injuries,” says Dr. Federico Rehberger.
“These approaches are based on more conservative treatments, which avoid surgery, or on preventive methods to protect an injury and reduce the risk of it becoming more complicated; in many cases, a simple mask allows them to continue playing even with broken bones.”
Orthopedic masks, increasingly common, protect fractured facial bones from possible displacements that could compromise their recovery.
Carles Puyol himself was one of the pioneers to wear it. If we consult photos of the center from 2004 to 2014, we can already see a great evolution of these masks: first uncomfortable and heavy, then light, with large spaces to allow visual perception. Almost ten years have passed since Puyol’s last facial injury, and these have improved even more, with more sophisticated materials, radiodiagnosis, 3D printing… We could see them recently on the face Valencia player Hugo Guillamón, or Real Oviedo defender Dani Calvo, who wore it a few days after suffering a blow in a match against Leganés.
“When a player suffers a strong facial trauma, the important thing is to hurry to obtain an urgent and precise diagnosis; in some cases, if the inflammation is not very pronounced, the pain can be controlled and, above all , the possibility of bone displacement is minimal, an orthopedic mask can get you back in the field in days, even with fracture diagnoses,” says Dr. Rehberger.
Minimize a threat to sports careers. A facial injury is always spectacular; a swollen cheekbone stands out more, with a showy bruise, than a torn cruciate ligament. However, it doesn’t have to be so disabling. Many times a simple facial fracture heals quickly; others just need adequate protection.
Until now, however, the careers of professional athletes could be jeopardized by unnecessarily long absences from training and competition. Now, they can benefit from various treatments that reduce sick leave, thanks to the priority given to safety.
“Making an orthopedic mask is relatively easy, thanks to current technology,” says Dr. Rehberger. “You don’t even have to build plaster casts anymore. Now the morphology of the face is scanned to create a virtual 3D model, from which the mask is printed with advanced materials, like carbon fiber.” These new, very inexpensive masks are capable of absorbing the impacts of the game, without causing discomfort to the player or reducing visual perception. Thus, your bone tissue can regenerate without interrupting its activity.
Not just football. In Spain, football is the king sport. But players in many other sports around the world rely on new solutions to stay competitive. Rugby, hockey, boxing, basketball.
In each sport, the possibility of sustaining one or another injury is different. The most common injuries are those affecting the nose and jaw, followed by those affecting the cheekbones. The severity can also vary a lot, but the treatments meet more and more needs.
We can for example remember the maxillofacial fracture that Fernando Alonso suffered in a bicycle accident, which did not prevent him, after a few weeks, from driving his Alpine on the Bahrain circuit. In this case, surgery cannot be avoided. However, the use of advanced techniques and technologies allowed for a much faster recovery than usual.
“There are many innovations that are applied in the sports sector to optimize recovery times,” explains Dr. Federico Rehberger. “For example, in our clinic, we use enriched plasma, which we extract from the same patient during the operation, and which is a natural bone regenerator, in addition to reducing inflammation and the risk of infection”, explains doctor.
The ultrasonic scalpel for working on bones or soft tissues is another of the tools that Dr. Rehberger could talk about, accustomed to using it in the different types of interventions that are performed.
The importance of diagnosis. But the good prognosis of sports facial trauma depends on one condition: a good clinical diagnosis. Only a quick and precise analysis of the file can provide the most suitable solution to put the athlete back in competition in record time.
Advances in radiodiagnosis are improving accuracy. For this reason, maxillofacial surgeons such as Federico Rehberger have equipment such as the facial scanner (computerized axial tomography).
In addition, it is normal for traumatic images to be accompanied. Fractures can be aggravated by damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, teeth, eyeballs or airways.
For this reason, experienced maxillofacial surgeons surround themselves with a multidisciplinary team, and operate in centers where they can count on the support of specialists in complementary fields. Such is the case of Dr. Federico Rehberger in his clinic in Oviedo.