Sports medicine pioneer James Andrews attended Louisiana State University, where he was the South East Conference indoor and outdoor pole vault champion in 1963. After completing his medical degree, Andrews continued his orthopedic specialty studies in France with Andrew Trillant, a pioneer with respect to various types of knee surgery. Upon his return to the United States, Andrews soon became one of the first practitioners of sports medicine in the country.
Andrews began to develop his specialty in orthopedic surgical techniques for athletic injuries in the early 1970s. Among other developments, Andrews refined the tissue graft techniques that were first employed by Dr. Frank Jobe, the American surgeon who developed the ulnar cruciate ligament repair procedure best known by its most famous patient, baseball pitcher Tommy John. Andrews subsequently performed successful arthroscopic surgery upon noted athletes such as pitcher Roger Clemens, football quarterback Troy Aikman, golfer Jack Nicklaus, and dozens of other high profile sports persons. Andrews was one of the founders of the American Sports Medicine Institute in 1986, one of the first medical clinics established in the United States that was devoted to sports injury treatment. Andrews continued to mix surgical practice, athletic injury consultancy, and teaching duties as a professor at both the University of Virginia and the University of Kentucky.
Throughout his medical career, Andrews continued his own personal athletic pursuits as a sailor; he was a part of one of the America's Cup challenge syndicates in 2000.
The early work of Dr. James Andrews centered upon the area of orthopedic practice known as arthroscopy, a surgical and investigative procedure where the arthroscope, a thin surgical device, can be used to permit a comprehensive examination of a joint and suspected damage within the structure in a way that is less invasive than traditional surgery. The arthroscope can be inserted into a very small incision, equipped with both lights and a small cameras. The arthroscope is then positioned to relay images regarding the condition of the interior of the joint to the attending surgical team. The arthroscope can also be used to perform a biopsy, where tissue samples from the desired area can be retrieved for later analysis.
In previously conventional surgical practices, particularly those involving the knee, the orthopedic specialist was required to make a deep incision the length of the joint. This procedure caused damage to much of the surrounding tissue of the joint. Andrews refined his arthroscopic techniques, so that knee operations could include a variety of repairs to torn cartilage (meniscus), damage to the articular cartilage at the end of the bones that comprise the knee joint, and various types of ligament repair.
As with many innovations to impact upon sports science, the significance of Andrews's work is not through invention, but through the development and enhancement of existing arthroscopic techniques. Andrews was one of the first orthopedic surgeons to stress both pre-operative as well as post-operative rehabilitation in arthroscopic procedures. Andrews developed programs of physical build-up as preparation for surgery to ease the patient into a vigorous recovery. These two factors have been demonstrated by Andrews in numerous cases to significantly shorten recovery time, while reducing the risk of subsequent injury to the surgically repaired joint.
The importance of comprehensive orthopedic expertise to modern professional sport is immense. Sports medicine experts such as Andrews are now able to repair and rehabilitate serious joint injuries more effectively than ever before. A well paid professional athlete who performs for his or her team is an asset to the organization; an injury to such an athlete is often a significant drain on the team payroll. The quicker and more thorough the repair and rehabilitation of an athletic injury, the better the financial position of the team with respect to the player.
Andrews remains on the leading edge of joint repair techniques. In addition to continue refinements of arthroscopic surgeries, Andrews has assisted in the development of non-surgical shockwave lithography, where an injured connective tissue that naturally is the recipient of poor blood flow, such as the plantar tissue in the foot, and the patellar tendon below the knee, is bombarded with waves to stimulate healing.
SEE ALSO Sports medicine education.