Like many medical interventions, the rib-removal surgery that sidelined Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter seems to work better on younger patients, according to new research from Washington University.
In a survey, patients younger than 21 were more likely to report improved mobility and less pain compared to older patients after their operations for thoracic outlet syndrome. The older group had experienced symptoms for a longer length of time pre-surgery and required more pain medication afterward, researchers said.
The Cardinals announced Tuesday that the 37-year-old Carpenter will miss the coming season, in effect ending his career, after he continued to experience pain in his throwing arm.
Carpenter had surgery in Dallas in July for thoracic outlet syndrome, which can cause pain, numbness and tingling when muscles and bones pinch the nerves in the shoulder. Pitchers are particularly susceptible because of their repetitive overhand movements and thickened shoulder muscles. In the surgery, a 4-inch rib bone under the collarbone and two muscles attached to it are removed. Carpenter returned to the mound to start three games in the regular season and three in the playoffs, although the arm bothered him in later games.
“That kind of recovery was very accelerated and all to his credit,” said Washington University vascular surgeon Robert W. Thompson, an author of the study. “There are very few examples where a pro athlete has come back to full performance.”
Thompson, who did not perform the surgery on Carpenter, speculated that scar tissue formed around the nerves in the pitcher’s shoulder after his operation, causing the ongoing pain when throwing.
The study was published last month in the Journal of Vascular Surgery.