On December 28, Brazilian icon and former UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva faced American MMA fighter Chris Weidman in a Dec. 28 battle that ended with a gruesome injury, shattering his lower leg and possibly his career.
Silva, who is known as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, lost his nearly seven-year title reign at UFC 162 in July 2013 to Weidman. The rematch in December, at UFC 168, was Silva’s chance to reclaim his title belt.
Instead, the former champion lost with an upset only a little over a minute into the second round when his leg kick was checked by Weidman’s knee, fracturing his tibia and fibula. He was carried out of the UFC Octagon on a stretcher, screaming in agony.
Needless to say, Silva lost the fight against Weidman, and his knee.
The two bones that Silva fractured span between the knee and ankle. The tibia is larger and bears most of the weight while the thinner fibula acts as support on the outside of the leg.
Orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Shelden L. Martin, MD of OrthoArizona, explained the repercussions of this type of injury.
“Typically, these are very severe injuries,” Dr. Martin detailed. “They can sometimes have other associated injuries to either the nerves or the arteries traveling through the leg.”
Dr. Martin further described how this type of injury can cause increase risk of infection and healing problems should the skin open, creating an open fracture. In this instance, sometimes soft tissue coverage with skin grafts or rotational or free flap muscle grafts is necessary.
Unless the fracture is minimally displaced, or in normal alignment, injuries of this kind are generally treated with surgery.
During surgery, a rod can be attached down through the middle of the tibia bone with interlocking screws at the ends of the fracture, to keep the fracture stabilized and to allow patients to bear light weight on the leg after the fracture is completely healed. Plates and screws can also be used, however this causes longer healing time as weight bearing must be limited.
In Silva’s case, he was taken into surgery at a local hospital in Las Vegas, where an intramedullary rod was inserted into his left tibia. Although Silva’s surgery was a successful one, there can be complications with these types of injuries.
According to Dr. Martin, in injuries with extensive fractures or multiple fracture pieces, nonunions can occur where the fractures do not heal. Nerve or vascular artery injuries can occur in open fractures, requiring additional repair from neurosurgeons or vascular surgeons, as well as extending healing time or requiring additional surgeries later on.
Recovery time for these injuries vary person-to-person. For all, extensive physical therapy is necessary to regain motion of the knee and ankle, as well as normal gait and strength of the leg. Some may require up to a year to fully recover, but athletes can typically return to sport within 6-9 months.
As for Anderson Silva, the UFC fanbase will be watching these next few months in his journey to recovery, awaiting a statement on his future plans.
Currently, Dr. Martin is the head team physician for the world champion Arizona Rattlers and team physician for Desert Vista High School. Previously, he served as part of the team medical staffs for the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Knights, Joe Gibbs Racing Team and the University of North Carolina.