You Don’t Have to be Young or a Pro to Play Sports

Emory Helps People of All Ages Stay Active – On the Field and in Life

At least three times a week, Robert Gaare laces up his soccer cleats, places a pair of protective shin guards inside his socks and hits the field for a scrimmage.

“Playing soccer is sheer joy. Nothing but fun,” says Robert.

At the youthful age of 71, Robert plays midfielder for FC Georgia United – a soccer club for older adults.

“In today’s world, being in your 70’s is not old,” says Robert. “I like to stay active.”

Robert has played soccer since he was a boy. When his adult team traveled to Hawaii for a tournament years ago, Robert’s wife, Cathy Kaemmerlen, and his children tagged along for a family vacation.

“We enjoy a lot of camaraderie and friendship,” says Robert. “And it motivates me to stay fit. I even go to the gym and lift weights to supplement my soccer.”

Nothing slowed down Robert for long – not even two hip replacements. But, a couple years ago, he started experiencing sciatica, a shooting pain down his left leg.

“When I was running, turning sharply and making quick movements, it hurt badly,” remembers Robert. “I could hardly kick the ball. I became a lamp post out there on the field — I couldn’t do anything.”

Unfortunately, physical therapy didn’t relieve the pain. An MRI showed stenosis, a narrowing in the spinal canal that presses on the nerve roots and causes pain.

Searching for Relief

Looking for relief, Robert investigated his options and sought the expertise of Scott D. Boden, MD, director of Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center at Emory Healthcare.

“Robert had a condition in his spine that comes with normal aging – degenerative spondylolisthesis. One of his spinal vertebra slipped forward about a quarter inch,” says Dr. Boden. “Although it doesn’t sound like much, it’s enough to cause squeezing or pinching of the nerves as they run through the spinal column and go down into the legs to control your leg muscles and sensation.”

Not only did the pain prevent Robert from playing soccer, it had a significant impact on his activities of daily living.

To relieve the pain, Dr. Boden first offers non-surgical treatments, such as:

  • Oral anti-inflammatory medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections to get rid of some of the inflammation in the nerve

Since non-surgical treatments did not help Robert, Dr. Boden suggested a procedure called laminectomy and fusion, with a bone growth factor to stimulate healing.

“Laminectomy is removing some of the bone and excess bone spurs that cause pinching and compression of the nerve roots,” explains Dr. Boden. “Fusion is joining two of his spinal vertebra together into a single bone to avoid the excessive and painful movement that develops at the level that slips forward.”

Robert was game – determined to stay physically active for as long as possible.

“To stop playing soccer at this stage of my life was too soon,” he says. “I didn’t want to become sedentary.”

“Our goal was to get him back to the point where he could walk comfortably without pain. His situation was affecting his activities of daily living at home. That was the justification for surgery,” explains Dr. Boden. “Playing soccer again would be a bonus.”

Healthy – and Active – to Age 100

Robert is typical of the latest generation of people who are living longer and want to stay active longer.

Dr. Boden says at least a third of his patients with spinal problems are over age 65.

“Fifty years ago, life expectancy was 67 or 70. It was very common for grandma and grandpa to end up with a walker or wheelchair, with spinal stenosis or nerve compression. People didn’t expect to remain active, work out in the gym, or play tennis and golf,” explains Dr. Boden. “Today, people are living longer. They have more time to enjoy retirement, and their expectations are different. It’s not enough to live long. People also want to remain healthy and active.”

Dr. Boden says the specialists at Emory care for people with a wide range of degenerative spine issues and assist patients in their goals to stay active as long as possible – at home or with sports and hobbies.

Successful Spinal Surgery

For Robert, laminectomy with fusion was a success. He slowly returned to his everyday activities, with no pain and no indication of sciatica.

“It’s an amazing difference – before and after surgery. Before, I was managing my life around the pain. Now, the absence of pain is wonderful,” says Robert.

Just six months after surgery, Dr. Boden cleared Robert to play soccer. “When we can help someone get their life back and do the things they enjoy – that’s what makes it all worthwhile,” says Dr. Boden.

Today, Robert is extremely grateful. He looks forward to playing many more soccer games, as well as hiking and biking with his wife.

“For me, Dr. Boden scored a big goal – the winning goal,” jokes Robert.

About Dr. Scott D. Boden

Scott D. Boden, MD, is Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Director of the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center. Dr. Boden started practicing at Emory in 1992. During his fellowship at Case Western Reserve Hospital in Cleveland, Dr. Boden trained with one of the founding fathers of modern spine surgery, Dr. Henry Bohlman. A primary original researcher on bone growth factor development and spine fusion technology, Dr. Boden is also an internationally renowned lecturer and teacher and the driving force behind the Emory University Orthopedics and Spine Hospital (EUOSH).


Emory Healthcare

At the Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center our highly-trained specialists work together to diagnose and treat cervical spine and lumbar spine conditions ranging from herniated discs to more complex problems such as spinal tumors and scoliosis. To make an appointment with an Emory spine specialist, call 404-778-3350.

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